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Tanzania`s nutritional status under spotlight

27th February 2013
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The Tanzania economy is failing to reap the benefits of sustained rapid growth because of the failure to deal squarely with the indicators of poverty reduction and reducing malnutrition. This scenario always raise many questions at several international conferences on Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health. According to statistics, Tanzania’s poverty rate fell from 35.7 percent to 33.6 percent in the last two years, while the share of the population consuming insufficient calories declined marginally from 25 percent to 23.6 percent.

 

This is despite the fact that sub-Saharan Africa experienced unprecedented economic growth in recent decades. Agricultural growth, often regarded as instrumental in lowering poverty rates in agrarian-based developing countries, averaged a respectable 4.4 per cent.

The Rome based Italy World Food Programe Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin said last week during an exclusive interview with this paper said that malnutrition is a manageable problem.

“Malnutrition is not a permanent problem , it can be solved as long as international organization work together with the help of the governments,” Cousin said.

She said that WFP is working together with the government to make sure the problem of malnutrition is eradicated adding that the earlier the challenges are addressed the better. 

She further said that WFP has an advantage when it comes to addressing malnutrition because of its presence in most of the world's food insecure regions.

“With food distribution structures in place in over 70 countries, WFP can tailor its responses to meet specific nutritional needs. The need could be for a diet with more calories, more micronutrients in general or more of a specific vitamin or mineral” the director said

Under an agreement with UNICEF, WFP has the mandate to address moderate malnutrition. UNICEF focuses on severe malnutrition. WFP does its part by providing food through programmes which supplement the food households already have with nutritious products such as fortified Blended Foods or Ready-to-Use Foods.

By treating moderate malnutrition, WFP tries to prevent children from slipping into severe malnutrition. In many emergency settings, for every child suffering from severe acute malnutrition, there are eight or ten suffering from moderate malnutrition, according to WFP.

In recent years, new ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs) for severely malnourished children have been developed. The progress in foods for severe malnutrition has worked as a catalyst for the development of special foods for other forms of malnutrition.

In this context, WFP has been improving the quality and diversity of the food products it uses. WFP is working with partners in the private sector, universities, UN and NGOs to develop and assess the effectiveness of innovative products. Treating micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiencies is an area of emphasis.

The WFP nutrition toolbox already includes fortified staples, fortified condiments and fortified blended foods. Among the fortified blended foods is corn soya blend (CSB), which WFP has used for decades. WFP is working on ways of improving the composition of these foods to better meet the nutritional needs of specific groups (young children, pregnant and lactating women, the chronically ill).

Speaking of the new strategy, Cousin said WFP toolbox also includes new strategies such as home-fortification with multi-micronutrient powder (MNP, also known as ‘sprinkles’). Home fortification means that beneficiaries themselves sprinkle the powder onto food after they have cooked it. It is a viable option when households already have some food but the food they have lacks important micronutrients.

Other new strategies include ready-to-use supplementary foods (RUSFs), for treating children with moderate acute malnutrition, and complementary food supplements, to complement the diet of young children (6-24 mo) with the highest nutritional needs

According International Food and Policy Institute’s researcher Karl Pauw,  Tanzania’s economy is one of those countries that failed to reap the benefits of sustained rapid growth.

Giving details, he said that the GDP grew by 6.6 per cent per year during 1998–2007, while agricultural growth, often regarded as instrumental in lowering poverty rates in agrarian-based developing countries, averaged a respectable 4.4 percent during the period under review.

Yet, between 2001 and 2007, Tanzania’s poverty rate only fell from 35.7 per cent to 33.6 percent, while the share of the population consuming insufficient calories declined marginally from 25 per cent to 23.6 percent.

This scenario raised a number of questions some of which were, why didn’t the rapid growth translate into more rapid reduction in poverty and malnutrition? And what was the contribution of agricultural growth to reducing poverty and malnutrition in Tanzania?

An examination of the production trends in recent times suggests that although the agricultural sector grew rapidly between 1998 and 2007 (at 4.4 percent per year), growth has been volatile, and its source has been concentrated among few crops.

Rice and wheat, for example, dominated production trends for cereals, while cotton, tobacco and sugar production grew almost 10 per cent per year, according to researches.

Larger-scale commercial farmers grew these well-performing crops on farms heavily concentrated in the northern and eastern periphery of the country.

In contrast, yield for maize, the dominant staple food crop grown extensively by subsistence farmers, remained low due to primitive farming methods, researchers said.

Despite rice and wheat expansion and generally favourable agro ecological conditions, it was also highlighted that Tanzania has remained a net cereals importer because production has failed to keep pace with rising consumer demand.

According to another IFPRI researcher, James Thurlow, Tanzania’s low poverty growth elasticity results from the current structure of agricultural growth, which favors large-scale production of rice, wheat and traditional export crops in specific geographic locations.

He highlighted that accelerating agricultural growth in a wider range of subsectors than those currently leading to the growth process can strengthen growth’s effectiveness in reducing poverty.

Faster agricultural growth would also benefit urban and rural households by increasing caloric availability and the ability to pay for food, he said.

“Such institutions have identified various interventions required to improve smallholders’ crop yields, such as investing in rural infrastructure, researching and adopting improved seed varieties, and providing extension services,” he said.

He noted that in recent years, the Tanzanian government has allocated a relatively small share of its budget to agriculture. However, current development plans indicate a reprioritization of agriculture as a driver of economic growth and socioeconomic development.

 “Nearly one in four children under the age of five is underweight. The problem of hidden hunger that is, deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, Vitamin A and iodine is also severe. Nutrition is therefore a serious challenge that has not received the attention it truly deserves, ”said David Lane  United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, serving in Rome, Italy, during his visit to Tanzania last month

According to him malnutrition is not only a consequence of poverty, but is also a cause of poverty. A malnourished child is more vulnerable to disease and less able to earn a leaving.

The complexity of causes that underlie malnutrition calls for a multi-sectoral strategy to address the three key issues of availability, access and absorption, he said.

“We need to address the issues of absorption of nutrition, health and hygiene, which in turn depend on many other factors such as the availability of clean drinking water, sanitation and also on the education and status of women in society. Aware of this, our fight against malnutrition incorporates, as it must, all these areas,” he added.

The government also recently launched its National Nutrition Strategy 2011/12 – 2015/16, and made a commitment to establish a designated line in the national budget for nutrition for the financial year 2012/13.

On Wednesday the Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives Christopher Chiza said that preventable deaths and illness related to malnutrition among the working force are a major factor undermining economic and social development as they directly affects the human resource, the key to putting together other factors of production.

Undercapitalization of the sector has also taken centre position in the circle of factors undermining it, followed by poor infrastructure, inadequate value addition chains, low research, poor technology and all that coupled with the ongoing global climate change.

Underweight children, stunted growth, limited mental development and nutrient deficiency ailments that can be fatal and permanently crippling like anemia and rickets respectively, are some of the effects of malnutrition that were brought.

These effects significantly reduce labour productivity in agriculture and other sectors, the minister said, adding that the situation will persist if the quantity and quality of the food produced is not improved.

As such, the minister mentioned the action being taken to revert the situation, saying African countries through the support of Nepad and co partners are building on CAAD framework to foster investment in their agricultural sectors and, according to him, all the countries have demonstrated notable progress.

It is for this purpose that Tanzania Agriculture Food Security Investment Plan (TAFSIP) was launched in November 2011. Through the initiative, seven major investment programmes have been identified and implemented.

Also, the government has developed the National Nutrition Strategy to guide the implementation of nutrition interventions.

It has also established a multi sector steering committee at both national and local levels, appointed nutrition focal points to each council and related ministries as well as created a budget line to compliment and support all programmes that address the nation’s nutrition deficiency.

Earlier, head of nutrition programme at Nepad Bibi Giyose, summarized the purpose of the workshop as to assist countries with implementation of planned interventions as part of the National Agriculture and Food Security Investment plans.

She underscored a key objective as the identification and integration of the best practices and approaches to better nutrition conditions as per the CAAD framework. Also, to increase understanding of how policy and governance issues need to align for improved food and nutrition security programming.

Earlier, Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki Nepad’s Chief Executive Officer, identified some of the major constraints hampering the promotion of nutrition-sensitive agriculture as  low political commitment, lack of understanding within the agricultural sector of the role the industry plays in nutrition and too few food security programmes that are focused on nutrition improvement as an explicit objective and component.

 

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN