By Kristen Reesor
DES MOINES, Iowa – When President of the African Development Bank Group Akinwumi Adesina visited Madagascar, he saw a small boy among the crowd.
“I was so sure he cannot be more than 5 years old,” Adesina said. “To my shock, Antonio said he was 13.”
The problem facing Antonio and millions of other Africans is stunted growth due to malnutrition. Twenty of the 24 countries that have stunting rates of more than 40 percent are in Africa, Adesina said at the 2016 World Food Prize Conference.
Stunting reduces national GDP because malnourished children do not get enough healthy food for their brains to grow normally and then become less able to contribute to local economies through the workforce as adults.
Malnutrition also causes millions of children to become blind due to vitamin A deficiency causing them to drop out of school.
“These things should not be,” Adesina said. “No child should ever go hungry.”
Adesina said countries must invest in what he calls “gray-matter infrastructure,” which are policies devoted to improving nutrition, which in turn can spur brain development.
Adesina said an estimated $7 billion a year for ten years is needed to address malnutrition globally. The African Development Bank Group has pledged $24 billion towards that goal to agriculture, food and nutrition programs in Africa, but that is not enough, he said.
Nutrition social impact bonds would help, Adesina said. These bonds allow countries to raise money to finance better nutrition for their people.
“Stunted children today mean stunted economies tomorrow,” he said. “It is that simple.”
Adesina also wants to create an African nutrition accountability index that would rank countries based on their progress. In May 2016, the African Development Bank Group created a body of people called African Leaders for Nutrition to begin promoting the implementation of nutrition policies. Kenneth Quinn, World Food Prize president, joined the global panel.
The Bank group launched Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa so African women can get loans to start their own businesses and earn more income.
“A healthy mother who is economically empowered will nourish her children,” Adesina said.
This story is published in collaboration with the University of Missouri. Read more about their reporting project at the World Food Prize here.