Malnutrition, especially lack of essential minerals and vitamins pose major challenges in African countries. It is estimated that twelve Africans die every minute as a result of hunger and malnutrition. Almost 240 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not eat well enough for their health and well-being. Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world afflicting almost one in four people. Eighty percent of the world’s stunted children live in just 14 countries, of which eight are here in Africa.
There is a disconnect between the nature of growth and the swelling number of poor people. ForAfrica to succeed in lifting millions out of poverty, and create a model of shared prosperity, it must focus on transforming its rural economies. And the way to do this is to transform agriculture. In other words, we must make the rural economy the new wealth economy. Poverty is not an industry and we must not grow it. Poverty must not become the comparative advantage of Africa.
A major reason for high rural poverty and malnutrition in Africa is the poor performance of agriculture – the main source of livelihoods for majority of the poor. For way too long, agriculture has been treated as a development sector, as a way to manage, not eliminate poverty. To turn things around, we must end treating agriculture as a development program, and start seeing agriculture as a business. This is especially needed, since 65% of all the arable land in the world is on the continent.
Over fifteen years ago, Howarth Bouis and other scientists thought why don’t we simply develop crops that have micronutrients, to make them easily accessible? That work, spearheaded by HarvestPlus, has shown great opportunities, which are now beginning to get reaped across developing countries. Since four years ago at the first global conference on bio-fortification, high iron pearl millet has been released in India, pro-vitamin A cassava and maize have been released in Nigeria and Zambia. Orange flesh sweet potato continues to make significant progress in several countries, including Rwanda, Mozambique, Kenya and Nigeria. High iron beans are being cultivated by over 600,000 farmers in Rwanda.
Africa is leading the world in the cultivation of bio fortified crops. Of the 1.5 million farming households now growing bio-fortified food crops, 1.4 million are in Africa. Another 1 million African farming households will be added this year.