Why Does Hunger Still Exist in Africa?

Apr 27, 2015




When I first started traveling to Africa, I would often meet children in the villages I was visiting and try to guess their ages. I was shocked to find out how often I guessed wrong. Kids I thought were 7 or 8 years old based on how tall they were – would tell me that they were actually 12 or 13 years old.
What I was witnessing was the terrible impact of malnutrition in Africa. These children were suffering from a condition known as stunting. They were not starving, but they were not getting enough to eat, leaving them years behind in their development – and it was hard to see how they could ever catch up.

Stunting not only affects a child’s height. It also has an impact on brain development. Stunted children are more likely to fall behind at school, miss key milestones in reading and math, and go on to live in poverty. When stunted children don’t reach their potential, neither do their countries. Malnutrition saps a country’s strength, lowering productivity and keeping the entire nation trapped in poverty.
Worldwide, one in four children is stunted. Three-quarters of them live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. However, while stunting has declined by more than a third in South Asia since 1990, in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of stunted children is still on the rise, up 12 million since 1990 to 56 million. Forty percent of all children in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted.

I run into a lot of people from rich countries who still think of Africa as a continent of starvation. The fact is, that’s an outdated picture (to the extent that it was ever accurate at all). Thanks to economic growth and smart policies, the extreme hunger and starvation that once defined the continent are now rare. As I saw when I was back in Africa last month with best-selling author John Green, today the issue isn’t quantity of food as much as it is quality—whether kids are getting enough protein and other nutrients to fully develop.
As Melinda and I have grown aware of the scale of this challenge, we’ve made improving nutrition a bigger priority for our foundation. One thing we’ve quickly come to appreciate is the problem’s complexity. There’s no vaccine to prevent stunting. Proper nutrition involves eating enough food, and the right kinds, every day of your life. While the global health community is still working to understand all of the causes and solutions to malnutrition, we do know a lot about how to ensure children get the nutrition they need for a healthy start to life.
We know that getting children the right nutrition in the first 1000 days – from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s 2nd birthday – is the best down payment on their future, giving them the opportunity to grow and develop physically and mentally. We also know that exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of a child’s life is the single most effective intervention to help the brain develop and protect against life-threatening diseases. That’s why we continue to research the best ways to address cultural beliefs and other barriers that have kept almost half of all women from using optimal breastfeeding practices.
We know kids have a hard time getting the nutrients they need when fruits, meats, and vegetables are in short supply—so fortifying staple foods like cooking oil, flour, and salt with essential vitamins and minerals can fill the gap. We’re also beginning to develop new crops that are more-nutritious–including a sweet potato that’s enriched with vitamin A—and also produce a higher yield. Not only does this help smallholder farmers earn more income that can be used to diversify their family’s diet, it also puts more nutritious food directly on their table.
Providing better health care can make a difference too. Children who receive the rotavirus vaccine, for example, have fewer bouts of diarrhea, which can drain kids of vital nutrients and make them more susceptible to infection. Likewise, clean water and sanitation play a role in improving nutrition by reducing illness and disease.
We have many great interventions on our side, but with so many factors at play it can be difficult to measure which interventions have the most impact on improving nutrition and why. If I could have one wish, I would want the world to have a better understanding of malnutrition and how to solve it.
We have much more research to do in this area and we will continue to make progress. But what’s not in doubt is the importance of giving all children the nutrition they need for a healthy start to life. Their future depends on it. So does Africa’s.


Post by Matorwmasen

My name is Clement Matorwmasen. Together with my wife I have co-founded Green Gold Social Enterprise. Since childhood I have always been a social and environmental activist and I was a youth leader in many activist groups. As a child I grew up in difficult circumstances when my parents abandoned me and I grew up at the homes of different foreign missionaries. As a teenager I re-established the contact with my family members and my tribe and I learned I was high up in the royal family lineage. I now have very strong ties to my tribe and I want to make a difference in not only their lives, but that of all Ghanaians. When I reconnected with my family, I was already running several not-for-profit projects trying to improve the living conditions in several poor communities, like organising finances for a community boreholes to improve access to clean drinking water. I was doing this alongside my teaching job as an IT-specialist at a tertiary institution. In 2007 my boss and mentor introduced me to Moringa. I was intrigued and went to learn more about the plant and all its qualities and I saw it as a potential solution to combat malnutrition in our communities. This inspired me to set up my own NGO called Drive Aid Ghana and we started promoting the usage and cultivation of Moringa. I was happy that I could make a difference for some people, but scaling and sustaining our activities were highly problematic. Initially I was able to interest farmers in growing Moringa, but mostly they ended up cutting it down because they were not able to generate income from it. This was because there was no established local market. They also challenged me: ‘if Moringa is so useful and if you can earn so much money with it, then why don’t you do it yourself?’ These experiences made me think and slowly the idea of starting a social enterprise to promote Moringa as a cash crop started to develop. With the full support of my wife I handed over my IT-business to my brother and went full-time into developing our social enterprise Green Gold. We have been donated an abandoned state farm of 3000 ha by one of our communities, which we are currently developing into a Moringa plantation and processing factory. My quest is simply to make a difference in other people’s lives and to make the world a better place one smile at a time, Moringa is my pivot point for sustainable development

Comments are closed.