Good nutrition is defence against the novel coronavirus

30Sep 2020
The Guardian
Good nutrition is defence against the novel coronavirus

Nutrition is the science that interprets the nutrients and other substances in food in relation to maintenance, growth, reproduction, health and disease of an organism. It includes ingestion, absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion.

The diet of an organism is what it eats, which is largely determined by the availability and palatability of foods. For humans, a healthy diet includes preparation of food and storage methods that preserve nutrients from oxidation, heat or leaching, and that reduces risk of foodborne illnesses. The seven major classes of human nutrients are carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals, proteins, vitamins, and water. Nutrients can be grouped as either macronutrients or micronutrients (needed in small quantities).

In humans, an unhealthy diet can cause deficiency-related diseases such as blindness, anemia, scurvy, preterm birth, stillbirth and cretinism, or nutrient excess health-threatening conditions such as obesity  and metabolic syndrome; and such common chronic systemic diseases as cardiovascular diseasediabetes,  and osteoporosis. Undernutrition can lead to wasting in acute cases, and the stunting of marasmus in chronic cases of malnutrition.  

A panel of gender, nutrition and food specialists explored food access challenges that vulnerable groups such as women and children face in Africa’s urban areas, at the African Green Revolution Forum held recently.

The online discussion had an added urgency in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to organisers of Africa’s largest agriculture conference.

African Development Bank Director for Agriculture and Agro-Industry Dr. Martin Fregene, Bank Coordinator of the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) initiative Esther Dassanou joined representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Harvest Plus and the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as other experts.

The first of two sessions looked at the role of nutrition and gender in Africa’s food systems, the role of partnerships in making food accessible to vulnerable populations, the importance of building strong food systems, providing local governments with new financial instruments, and tools to support local food systems.

In his remarks to the digital audience, Fregene talked about the Bank’s contribution to address food access on the continent, such as the TAAT programme, which provides quality seed to farmers for better crop yields, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme, a partnership with the World Bank group, which supports sustainable agriculture that benefits poor and vulnerable smallholder farmers in developing countries, particularly women.

Fregene said small and medium enterprises (SMEs) play a pivotal role in the food systems value chain and mentioned the Bank’s instruments to help SMEs address challenges such as financing and infrastructure.  

Arun Baral, representing HarvestPlus, stressed the importance of providing women with tools and technologies, such as bio-fortified seeds and gardening techniques, to create sustainable and nutritious food ecosystems in their communities.

In the second half of the session, attendees agreed that women face overwhelming challenges in accessing financial support.

In his keynote address to the audience, Peter Macdougall, Assistant Deputy Minister of Global Affairs Canada, mentioned the importance of gender-based finance in the agriculture sector to bring sustainability in Africa.  

AFAWA coordinator Dassanou said there was a vast financing gap. “Today, in the continent, there are financial institutions that specifically target women entrepreneurs. However, they are nowhere near the levels that we want to see,” she said.

The second session’s panelists agreed that one of the solutions to fast-track the growth of financial support for women-led and owned enterprises, particularly in agribusiness, is to establish databases to encourage banks to lend money to women.

The second session panelists agreed that prioritizing data-led research to fast-track financial support for women, would help recognise women as a key part of the envisioned agricultural transformation.

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