Let's learn from past efforts to fight hunger

30Jun 2016
The Guardian
Let's learn from past efforts to fight hunger

The government has scrapped value added tax (VAT) on all imported food nutrients to allow more consumption foods with all the needed nutrients.

The revelation was made by the Ministry of Health, Gender, Elderly and Children on Tuesday when speaking at the official launch of the National Fortification Assessment Coverage Tool (FACT) Survey in Tanzania, 2015.

The survey is aimed at providing quality evaluation on the increase of the vitamin A, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and folic acid in wheat and maize flour, oil and salt products. It is good that government was determined to ensure that people consume foods with all the required vitamins and minerals for the health benefit of citizenry.

It was also revealed further that in women of childbearing age specifically, the functional consequences of micronutrient malnutrition do not affect their own mortality, morbidity and productivity, but also that of their offspring.

There are three principal areas where science contributes to food security: increasing yields, increasing the nutritional value of food and reducing post-harvest loss.

Increasing the productivity of agriculture is vital. This can be achieved by getting more from each crop, or more crops from each season, with lower risk of crop failure. This is perhaps best demonstrated by new rice strains.

Varieties of rice traditionally grown in Africa tend to yield a fifth of that of typical Asian varieties; but new strains being developed for Africa are delivering yields comparable with Asian species.

Most of Africa has nitrogen-deficient soils and the land, as with many of the continent's vast resources, is unlikely to reach its potential productivity without some innovative thinking from science. In this case, redistributing land ownership is not enough for increasing productivity.

Science has spearheaded efforts to improve the nutritional content of foods, known as bio-fortification. There are now scalable examples of vitamin A-enriched sweet potatoes and rice, and iron-enriched beans.

But there are concerns about whether this kind of fortification is a sustainable alternative to a varied diet when addressing nutritional needs. But these concerns don't discount the importance of investing in this area — and bio-fortification is a clear research objective for the campaign.

Tanzania has made little progress towards reducing extreme hunger and malnutrition. The 2010 Global Hunger Index ranks the situation as “alarming”. Children in rural areas suffer substantially higher rates of malnutrition and chronic hunger, although urban-rural disparities have narrowed as regards both stunting and underweight.

Low rural sector productivity arises mainly from inadequate infrastructure investment; limited access to farm inputs, extension services and credit; limited technology as well as trade and marketing support; and heavy dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources.

Tanzania’s fast-growing population of 45 million is highly dependent on the environment and natural resources for its livelihood. Thus unsustainable harvesting of natural resources, water-source encroachment and unchecked cultivation, coupled with global climate change, pose challenges.