Food production efforts should include nutrition education

Wednesday August 26 2015

By Michael J. Ssali

A study, The Cost of Hunger in Africa, which was conducted in 2013 by the government, with support from African Union, revealed that Uganda loses Shs1.8tn ($899m) annually—or 5.6 per cent of GDP—due to the effects of malnutrition. Illnesses related to malnutrition cost the country Shs526b ($145.9m).

Farmers’ failure to effectively do manual work because of malnutrition costs Shs417b ($115.6m). Malnutrition induced mental retardation in children and poor academic performance resulting in sub-standard services in non-manual work costs the country Shs241b ($66.8m).

Nearly half of all deaths among children in the country are due to malnutrition. The study further revealed that millions of work hours are lost due to people falling ill or abandoning work to attend burials of people killed by malnutrition-related illnesses.

Back then Amama Mbabazi, who was Prime Minister, described the findings as extremely worrying and said Uganda urgently needed to invest in nutrition-oriented measures and policies that would ensure critical economic savings at national and household levels.

We tend to emphasise food production and income generation to our farmers than giving them the necessary information about nutritious food they can actually produce. The agricultural extension workers talk about production skills like fertiliser use, soil erosion prevention, irrigation and adaption to high-yielding seed.

But do our farmers know the nutritional value of food crops and livestock products that they produce? They should be taught what constitutes a balanced diet and encouraged to produce a variety of foods to eat regularly in sufficient amounts. The research at our national agricultural stations to produce vitamin A-rich bananas, bio-fortified sweet potatoes and beans rich in iron, zinc, and vitamin A ought to be supported.

A January 2014 FAO report stated: “The priorities for agricultural research and development must become more nutrition enhancing, with a stronger focus on nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and animal-source foods, as well as local biodiversity and diversified farming systems.”

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