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FAO: Indigenous foods to alleviate nutrition crisis in Southern Africa

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in partnership with the New Partnership for Africas Development of the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), organised a three-day sub-regional consultative dialogue

The problem of obesity is alarming and it is cross-cutting in all countries, especially in urban areas due to the changes in the food system.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is not an exception and it is facing the triple burden of malnutrition and poverty, which often co-exist with urbanisation, associated with a significant shift in dietary habits. This includes the neglect of indigenous foods and consumption of processed and empty calorie foods.

Under the theme, “Addressing overweight and obesity the indigenous way,” the dialogue provided a platform for experts from Southern African countries to exchange ideas and formulate strategies for inter-country collaboration on the twin subjects of obesity and indigenous food.

Call to action

Africa is home to a wide variety of indigenous crops including pulses, nuts, cereals, fruits and vegetables, which contain essential nutrients that contribute to healthy and productive lives. Not only are they nutritious but also drought tolerant and pest- and disease resistant than their exotic counterparts.

However, despite their potential role in enhancing the quality of diets and meeting nutrient requirements for urban and peri-urban areas with high malnutrition rates, consumption of indigenous food has declined. This is due to the low availability in modern commercialised and industrialised markets and lack of investment in research and advocacy to support their market penetration and food security policies.

In the effort to promote indigenous food as a critical contributor to a nutritious diet, FAO stressed that everyone has an important role to play. The three-day dialogue formed part of FAO’s multi-sectoral approaches to eliminating malnutrition in all its forms on the continent as enshrined in the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) decade of action.

FAO said that it will continue to advocate governments on policymaking by adding issues pertaining to overweight and obesity and have a follow-up workshop in 2020 for issues discussed in the course of the dialogue. There will be awareness-raising activities as well as creating traditional food composition data tables for consumers.

FAO and AUDA-NEPAD are closely collaborating and creating regional forums of learning and experience sharing for the development of Sustainable Food and Agriculture (SFA) in Africa. Through improving awareness and mechanisms to better integrate SFA and mobilise resources for agricultural investment plans, FAO supports to strengthen the mainstreaming of SFA to achieve the SDGs in the context of Malabo Declaration.