President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina, has said conscious development of the brain power through nutrition could spur economic growth on the African continent.
“The greatest contributor to economic growth is not physical infrastructure, but brainpower, or ‘gray matter infrastructure’,” he said.
Malnourished children do not feed their brains or bodies, and “stunted children today leads to stunted economies tomorrow,” he said in Washington during a global nutrition dialogue organised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
According to UNICEF, 58 million children in Africa under the age of five are too short for their age; and 14 million weigh too little for their height with an estimated annual cost of under-nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa at US $25 billion.
Dr Adesina said the Bank has stepped up nutrition matters higher and would soon launch a new strategy to ‘Feed Africa’, and turn a net food-importing continent into a self-sufficient food exporter within 10 years.
The Bank is again launching the Affirmative Finance Action for Women to leverage a $ 3 billion specifically for women in Africa.
It would also use its 2016 Annual Meetings in Lusaka, Zambia in May, as a platform for the group of African Leaders for Nutrition to call for innovative and effective financing approaches to end malnutrition.
“Note that I say ‘end’ malnutrition, not ‘reduce’ it,” he said.
“Now more than ever is the time invest in nutrition,” said Keith Hansen of the World Bank.”
“If the world is to meet the six targets set out by the World Health Organisation in 2012, the World Bank calculates that it need to spend $7 billion a year for 10 years.”
“That is a fraction of what it currently spends on things like subsidies for farmers. Our current spending on nutrition amounts to just half of one penny in every dollar.”
The AfDB President expanded on the idea of financing the fight against malnutrition, floating the idea of issuing nutrition social bonds.
He expressed the importance of Health Ministers having the support of their Finance Ministers, recalling his time as Minister of Agriculture for Nigeria.
“I am not asking you [the Finance Minister] for more money for agriculture. “I am in fact promising you more money from agriculture, if we turn it into agribusiness,” he said.
He underscored the importance of using mobile technology to get food and information about food to women, and expressed the need for Africa to scale up its use of bio-fortified foods.
Ninety-five per cent of these are currently imported, while the raw materials to create them, not least sorghum, are plentiful.
“Again, Africa will manage its own development,” Dr Adesina said.