Today, the 25th of May, marks the 49th anniversary of the signing of the OAU (Organization of African Unity) agreements which evolved into the present day African Union (AU). This year’s Africa Day celebration is centred on nutrition, with the African Union Theme for the year 2022 “Strengthening Resilience in Nutrition and Food Security on the African Continent”.
The SOAWR Coalition celebrates that 43 out of the 55 AU Member States have enshrined African women’s right to nutrition and food security by ratifying the Maputo Protocol. However, whilst progress has been made to implement these rights, we note that:
- No African country is on course to meet the 2030 targets for anaemia in women of reproductive age (aged 15 to 49 years) nor the targets relating to low birth weight (Global Nutrition Report, 2020). In 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported that approximately 122.7 million African women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia.
- Conflict, drought, and economic woes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic are reversing years of progress. As of 2020, more than one-third of the continent’s population was undernourished. In the whole of Africa, 282 million people were experiencing hunger, more than double the proportion of any other region in the world (World Vision, 2020).
- With the disruption of food supplies arising from the Russia-Ukraine war, Africa now faces a shortage of at least 30 million metric tons of food, especially wheat, maize, and soybeans imported from both countries (African Development Bank Group, 2022).
The World Health Organisation highlights that “Reducing the incidence of low birthweight requires improved access to and quality of care for mothers and infants. Context-specific, gender-sensitive interventions that help women achieve greater access to appropriate health and maternal care are essential. The health and nutritional status of girls, adolescents and women are key, as stunted and poorly nourished girls can become poorly nourished mothers at risk of giving birth to infants with low birthweights and other pre and postnatal challenges.”
Furthermore, investing in nutrition is cost-effective, and critical for Africa’s economic and human capital development. For every $1 invested in nutrition, there is a $16 return on investment in health, education and productivity outcomes (African Development Bank Group, 2017). Subsequently, on the 20th of May 2022, the African Development Bank Group’s Board of Directors approved a $1.5 billion African Emergency Food Production Facility with the Group’s President stating, “Food aid cannot feed Africa. Africa does not need bowls in hand. Africa needs seeds in the ground, and mechanical harvesters to harvest bountiful food produced locally. Africa will feed itself with pride for there is no dignity in begging for food…”
Positively, African women are innovating malnutrition and undernutrition solutions. For example, the African Women in Agribusiness Network (AWAN) aims to address challenges in food security and identify opportunities for women in the agricultural sector. The network advocates for initiatives that enhance women’s competitiveness in local and global markets. AWAN also seeks to foster market linkages for women, connecting them to projects in the agricultural sector that can improve their access to resources, knowledge and training.
Ultimately, the SOAWR Coalition calls upon all AU member states to implement Articles 14(2b.) and 15 of the Maputo Protocol to address these challenges and ensure African women’s rights to nutrition and food security.
- ‘What does women’s empowerment have to do with malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa? Evidence from demographic and health surveys from 30 countries‘ (2020) Yaya, S., Odusina, E.K., Uthman, O.A. et al.
- ‘Women leaders in Africa vow to end malnutrition using best tested strategies‘ (2020) SUN Country Network.
- 2021 Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2021. Statistics and trends, FAO (also available in French).