This appeal is timely because this is an issue that just should not end up on the shelves after some discussion, owing to its urgency. It belongs to the sort of questions that are said to be cross-cutting, with no sector-based answer.
Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC) officials made call towards the end of last week at a media training session in Morogoro, where the focus was on the development impact of child nutrition.
One researcher with the agency said that, apart from the matter of breastfeeding and nutrition generally being an economic development foundation, better nutrition contributes immensely to the development of health levels and therefore to community development generally.
Other experts meanwhile rightly point out that poor nutrition at the start of life – in the form of lack of breastfeeding – leads to serious drawbacks.
Indeed, the efforts that parents, teachers and subsequently the community at large put into developing the necessary skills and the right attitudes among the youth become all the more complicated owing to this missing link at the start of life.
Child nutrition determines the manner in which cognitive and other performance motors in babies will be formed and catch up with the relevant age brackets. This situation, when viewed in a classroom situation, is called stunting – implying a dwarfing of cognitive abilities.
There is a sense in which this problem transcends the purview of the Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, however grand or well-intentioned its plans to generate educative and media teaching kits and other tools on the issue may be.
One vital aspect of this effort is that the programmes must incorporate the needs of children’s health upkeep in the family and in schools.
It is a signal that the ministry, perhaps in association with local government authorities, ought to do more in using schools as a ladder in the fight against malnutrition.
When efforts are directed at nursery schools, before resources are augmented to include primary schools, something could be done at that level.
Various global agencies have raised worries about current trends with regard to child under-nutrition and its onerous impacts for the present and the future. They could hopefully do more if their role in directing or managing such efforts is clearer and more vivid.
It means that civil society bodies ought to play a greater part in that direction, specifically in that they can – and actually do – work directly with such agencies.
One TFNC researcher underlined the importance of investing more noticeably in nutrition after the country has attained a middle-income status, as well as in efforts to attain the 2025 National Development Vision and the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals.
Still, NGOs ought to craft ways of actually reaching children, first in nursery schools especially in under-served urban and rural areas and thereafter in primary and secondary schools.
We seriously need to combat the 30-33 per cent levels of stunting when children enter primary school. That would promise much more of the expected impact.