In his presentation during a nutrition awareness workshop for editors in Dar es Salaam, Nutrition Coordinator in the President's Office (Regional Administration and Local Government) Mwita Waibe said it is within that period that nations prepare human capital through investment in nutrition since conception up to two years of a child's life.
They are called critical 1,000 days because it is the period of brain development through nutrition: consumption, digestion, absorption and utilisation of key vitamins and minerals that are necessary for both brain and physical development, Waibe noted.
During this period, the expectant mother and later the child must consume balanced diet and recommended supplements to avert stunting and birth defects such as spinal bifida whose management cost the nation billions of shillings annually, he said.
But according to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, some 32 per cent of children under the age of five in the country are stunted and according to Waibe, Tanzania must reverse the trend for it to become middle income economy by 2025 and achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Status Quo 2014-2025 report compiled by the Ministry of Finance and Planning found that Tanzania loses 3.5trn/- per year for not investing more in nutrition and will lose a whopping 39trn/- by the year 2025.
If this trend is not reversed, Tanzania may not hit the middle income and SDGs targets, he cautioned.
Since investment in nutrition is directly linked to reducing maternal and child deaths--critical aspects to achieving SDGs, Waibe said more investment in nutrition is inevitable for Tanzania.
What about some parents who invest heavily in the nutrition of their children who are above five years in the hope of averting stunting?
"They are wasting the resources; avoiding stunting must be done within the first 1,000 days, " Waibe said.
He added that 90 per cent of a child's brain development occurs before the age of five.
"Human brain development is human capital that Tanzania cannot ignore; all developed countries invested in this stage before becoming what they are today," he said.
Speaking on the economic cost of not investing in nutrition, Waibe said the nation ends up with dull people whose brains are not fully developed hence they cannot be trained and play a meaningful role in the development of their country.
Our roads, bridges, hydropower plants, railways, and airports will be built by foreigners whom we pay trillions of shillings that they inject into their economies," he said.
Neema Lugangira, Executive Director of Agri Thamani Foundation which co-organised the workshop noted however that high rate of stunting in Tanzania is not due to lack of food per se but rather balancing of it and prioritizing expectant mothers and children below five years.
"Regions such as Njombe and Kagera which have the highest rates of stunting in the country are not food deficient, they just don't give the right amount and right type of food to the right persons, " she said.
Globally, it is recommended that the rate of stunting should not go above 22 per cent.
Some 59 million children are stunted in Africa while 151 million are stunted in the world.