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FoodAfrica Secretariat
Natural Resources Institute
The University of Greenwich at Medway
Central Avenue
Chatham Maritime
Kent ME4 4TB
United Kingdom

Email: Keith Tomlins
Tel: +44 (0)1634 883360
Fax: +44 (0)1634 883567


Summary of main issues from the Food, Health and Nutrition discussions in FoodAfrica

1. Use an interdisciplinary approach to develop food-based strategies against micro-nutrient deficiencies and take consumer attitudes into account.
2. Promote consumption of micronutrient-rich foods, especially to vulnerable groups (pregnant women, aged, HIV/AIDS patients).
3. The need for more dietary intake surveys and consumer studies.
4. Evaluate laboratory analysis capacity with accreditation and develop database of laboratory capacity and capability.
5. Determine nutritional value of (indigenous) foods.
6. Develop database of indigenous foodstuffs with high nutritional and medicinal value.
7. Introduce more nutrition education in school programs as well as academic programmes, especially in health sector.
8. Study traditional processing techniques and investigate effects. of processing on bio-availability of micro-nutrients in foods.
9. Integrate heath-care with nutrition facilities.
10. Review FAO Nutrition guidelines and develop generic nutrition guidelines relevant to sub-Saharan Africa.

Nutrition was considered by the International Working Meeting to be especially important for vulnerable groups in African societies. Examples given included; children, the aged, pregnant women and those who suffer HIV/AIDS.

Both under-nutrition and over-nutrition were considered important. Access to sufficient food of an appropriate quality and quantity needs to be achieved so that a diet can be considered to be balanced. In particular, the International Working Meeting suggested that the following micronutrient deficiencies need continued attention in sub-Saharan Africa: iron, vitamin A, zinc and copper, iodine and selenium. Food production, purchasing, processing and preservation, preparation and promotion of appropriate indigenous knowledge throughout the food processing and marketing chain need developing to ensure that issues of sufficiency and quality are addressed:. The meeting considered that many of these issues are currently being addressed on a piecemeal basis and that future progress could be made by addressing food, health and nutrition in a holistic manner.

Different interventions to improve micronutrient status are possible, but food-based approaches were considered especially important. Information on which foods are rich in which micronutrients needs to be made more widely available and disseminated to support these food-based initiatives. For example, some fruits and vegetables are rich in iron whilst others are rich in vitamin A (e.g. some orange-fleshed varieties of sweetpotato and cassava). Development of staple food crops rich in beta-carotene, iron and zinc is the focus on the current CGIAR HarvestPlus Challenge Programme ( These approaches can complement supplementation and fortification programmes (for example, salt iodization). It was emphasised that efforts to overcome micro-nutrient deficiencies have to be part of National Nutrition Policies so that regulation and control are enforced and supported by knowledge from dietary intake surveys.

It was suggested that more research on the effects of processing to enhance bioavailability is needed. The effect of storage, packaging and food preparation methods on nutritive value need to be into account. In addition, it is important to recognise where food-food interaction can play a role in a balanced diet, particularly for vulnerable groups. More research is needed on the potential for vulnerable groups to gain nutritional benefits from traditional and indigenous foods. Although some progress is being made in this area the meeting considered that it was fragmented in nature. Advantages would include the promotion of consumption of indigenous micronutrient rich foods for specific vulnerable groups in addition to appropriate evaluation procedures for potential toxicity of foods also needs to be developed and be made widely available.

The ability to accurately and precisely determine the nutrient content of foods is a basic requirement for nutrition research in sub-Saharan Africa. This is currently restricted by insufficient laboratory analysis capacity and capability. The analytical capability in sub-Saharan Africa must be reviewed and ways of improving both the capability and sharing of resources and information sought.

Local and indigenous foodstuffs in sub-Saharan Africa offer a potential resource that is currently underutilised. This is compounded by the lack of information. It was recommended that research on indigenous and traditional processing methods needs to be documented and to make information available, a database could be developed. The importance of the database could be enhanced if it were to include indigenous foodstuffs with high nutritional and medicinal value relevant to people with HIV/AIDS.

Communication of appropriate nutritional information and knowledge to the sector was considered to be a key issue. In particular, promotion and dissemination to vulnerable groups was an issue because many individuals have low levels of literacy. Specific aspects raised at the meeting included consideration into how information on micro-nutrients can be made available; the provision of nutritional information on locally produced products and labelling of locally produced food products.

It was suggested by the meeting that FAO Nutrition Guidelines should be reviewed and generic guidelines relevant to sub-Saharan Africa developed. Such a revision would allow extra emphasis to be given issues relevant to the region including, for example, concerns regarding the vertical transmission (mother to child) of HIV/AIDS. This should be a dynamic process involving all parties so that new knowledge can be integrated into such guidelines. For example, stakeholders, such as NGOs and other civil society bodies, need to be identified and included in the process.

The overall approach to the nutritional aspects of food research was discussed. Foremost was the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to identify and tackle nutritional problems and to integrate healthcare with nutrition facilities i.e. nutrition should be seen as complementing medical interventions. Also it was considered important to include participatory research methods to ensure that, for example, gender considerations are taken into account, as well as consumer attitudes and perceptions.

The overall summary of FoodAfrica can be downloaded here.