FAO in Tanzania

Ending malnutrition is within our hands

Charles Tulahi

OpEd by Charles Tulahi - October 2020

Available information indicates that national stunting rates have decreased by 3.2 percent since 2012. Food production is thriving in the country, with regions such as Mbeya, Rukwa, and Ruvuma producing over 40 percent more food than what their populations need.

These and other figures illustrate Tanzania's remarkable achievements in the last decade. Paradoxically some high food-producing regions are those with the highest rates of stunting. Economic growth has also caused new forms of malnutrition, such as overweight and obesity, which are on the rise, together with diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

These two apparent paradoxes teach us a lesson that population growth calls for even greater efforts if we want to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. They remind us that producing more food does not automatically reduce undernourishment or stunting. And they highlight the need not to just feed people, but to provide healthy diets for all.

A recent report by the Food and Nutrition Security Impact, Resilience, Sustainability and Transformation (FIRST) Programme - a partnership between the Government of Tanzania, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the European Union (EU) to improve policies in the food and nutrition security domain reinforces the importance of investing in healthy diets.

Climate change and other shocks seem to have an adverse impact on food & nutrition security as well. Between 1961 and 2016, the country’s average monthly temperature increased by 0.6 degrees Celsius, and rainfall decreased by 6.4 mm. These changes have tended to undermine food production and aggravate diseases and pests such as the Fall Army Worm (FAW), among others.

Therefore, it is crucial to invest in systems that will reduce the fragility of farmers, pastoralists, and fisherfolk who are facing observed challenges and support them in adapting to a changing climate, the report insists. It also calls for enhanced interventions that focus on building climate resilience and enabling environment that attracts private sector (from smallholders to big farming industries) investments. Developing and promoting the adoption of appropriate climate-smart agriculture technologies in all agroecological zones is one of many promising options.

Through qualitative and quantitative analysis and extensive consultations with key stakeholders in the food, and nutrition sectors, the report has identified three major avenues to accelerate progress;

First, the blooming Tanzanian agriculture offers excellent potential for contributing towards ending malnutrition through a more nutrition-sensitive approach. Besides food availability, deliberate interventions that focus on dietary diversity and food safety for all will have a lasting positive impact on human resource development. Increasing the production and consumption of nutrition-dense commodities such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, fish, and livestock products has a very significant impact on reducing malnutrition.

To this end, awareness-raising campaigns on the importance of dietary diversity would help consumers make healthier choices and send the right signals to farmers, marketers, and other actors in the food value chains to adopt practices that better link agriculture and nutrition.

Secondly, enhanced training programs around nutrition and agriculture to both nutrition and agriculture personnel, and strengthening coordination between the health and agriculture sectors would strengthen the fight against malnutrition.

Lastly, little can be done without resources. Despite its importance, agriculture needs enhanced investments for nutrition-sensitive interventions. Earmarking investments for the agriculture sector (especially for research on how agriculture can help prevent NCDs or adapt to climate threats), tracking commitments, and mobilizing additional resources are effective policy options.  Given that Tanzania has entered the Middle-income economy status, deliberate enhanced investments have to be made in human resource development to reverse prevailing stunting levels that impair the physical and cognitive abilities of a significant proportion of children under five years of age.

With so many competing priorities, along with Post Covid-19 responses, public funds will never be enough. Development partners, Civil Society Organisations (CSO), the private sector, and other interested parties need to engage and get involved in the nutrition agenda if we are to leave no one behind by the year 2030.  Nutrition and health is everybody's business. Everybody should come on board; especially the youth and women, as they hold the keys to success. Grow. Nourish. Sustain. Together. Our Actions are our future.

The Author is FAO Tanzania Assistant Country Rep (Programmes)