This blog post is a collaboration with ONE and HarvestPlus‘ head of communications, Yassir Islam.
Imagine, if on your way to work today, you stopped grabbed a cup of coffee for less than $2. And that was it.
You had no more money to spend that day. No money for lunch, no money for your bus ride home, no money to put food on the table for your family. That’s the cold hard truth that 1.4 billion poor people around the world have to face every day.
A new ONE brief reiterates that the lack of nutritious food leads to “178 million young children being stunted and suffering irreversible damage.” To reverse that trend, we have to give poor people more opportunities to get a pay raise, and to be able to grow — or buy — the right kinds of nourishing foods that their children must have to reach their full potential.
Yet, along with South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa remains a hunger hotspot. While some countries in the region have reduced their number of hungry people, one in four Africans are still not getting enough food. Children suffer the most — poor nutrition is the culprit in more than one in three of the almost eight million deaths of children under five each year. Many of the kids who survive will end up stunted or suffer other irreversible damage to their bodies and brains, that will burden them through their lives. According to ONE, that’s almost 40 percent of children in this region alone. That’s simply unacceptable when we have solutions.
ONE is part of the chorus of international organizations calling for more investments in agriculture. Most of the poor still live in rural areas and depend on farming not just for income, but the food that that they put on their tables. In fact, more than two-thirds of Africans depend on farming for their incomes.
So, for ONE, the starting point to prosperity lies in each country taking ownership of nationally-endorsed agricultural plans. Next, each country needs to be aligned with the Scaling-Up Nutrition (SUN) movement to help bridge the long-standing gap between agriculture and health. After all, agriculture should not just be concerned with increasing yields; it also needs to provide a diversity of nutritious foods. SUN can help make that connection.
And so can HarvestPlus, an international program which is doing its part. Through its network of partners, HarvestPlus is developing nutrient-rich varieties of staple food crops that can provide more vitamins such as vitamin A, and minerals, such as zinc, and iron in the diet. These are the very micronutrients that safeguard child health, build bodies and brains, and help children grow up to reach their full potential.
There are 18 countries identified by ONE as having both an internationally-endorsed national agriculture plan and being aligned with SUN. These 18 countries are home to almost one quarter of the world’s stunted children. One third of these countries, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Bangladesh are also HarvestPlus target countries where nutrient-rich crops will first be released to rural farming communities.
In fact, orange sweet potatoes (OSP) rich in vitamin A, similar to the ones eaten in the US, have already been released in Uganda and Mozambique where they were shown to provide significant amounts of vitamin A in the diet. HarvestPlus is now scaling up OSP to reach 225,000 Ugandan households while partners scale up OSP in Mozambique and other African countries. New, conventionally-bred, varieties of cassava, also with more vitamin A were launched earlier this year in Nigeria, a country where cassava is practically a national food and eaten every day. It’s these small daily dose of essential nutrients that these crops provide that could make the difference between a sick or healthy child.
ONE is advocating for increased investments in food security and nutrition at the G8 meeting this month. At the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus, effort to provide micronutrients whether through supplements, fortified foods, or micronutrient-rich food crops were three of the top five solutions proposed to global challenges. This week, the 2012 Consenus expert panel said that “fighting malnourishment should be the top priority for policy-makers and philanthropists.” Economic imperatives apart, every child deserves a healthy childhood to thrive. That simply can’t happen without better nutrition.