Africa has seen steady growth over the past 20 years. This trend can only be sustained through continuous investment in its young and dynamic population. Malnutrition, however, is undermining progress on the continent and remains unacceptably high. About 59 million children in Africa are stunted, and 14 million are acutely malnourished. Malnutrition is one of the major obstacles to health, economic growth and development in Africa.

I applaud the African Heads of State for strengthening their commitment to nutrition by formally endorsing the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) initiative at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa. I am pleased to continue to support this effort for improved nutrition as an eminent member of the ALN.

I believe the following priorities are critical in our fight against malnutrition in Africa and I am confident that we can catalyse appropriate actions on these fronts:

First, both the public and private sector need to champion nutrition and mobilise more financial commitments on nutrition to deliver socio-economic and health returns. This will save millions of lives every year and contribute to sustained economic growth. A particular focus has to be put on infants, children and mothers, as adequate nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life – from the moment of conception until age two – is the most critical time in a child’s development.

Second, governments have to adopt a nutrition-sensitive lens to new policies. Nutrition is not just a health issue, but one that cuts across multiple sectors and essential parts of life – from agriculture to education. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, millions lack the nutrients needed for proper health and development. One way of tackling malnutrition is by making crops and diets more diverse and nutritious. We have to put a much bigger emphasis on the quality of our diets, rather than just focusing on quantity.

Third, we need to create new partnerships and promote solutions that come from all sectors – governments, the private sector, and civil society. By pooling our resources and efforts, we can accelerate progress towards the WHO Global Nutrition Targets and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal to end malnutrition.

Fourth, we need to make sure that we put in place a nutrition accountability mechanism. Building on the successes of similar tools, the ALN is establishing a Nutrition Accountability Scorecard to drive performance, track progress on implementation, and identify good policies and strategies.

Finally, a focus on data is critical to helping countries reduce malnutrition. Timely, relevant, and reliable data are essential to defining problems, diagnosing root causes, and making informed policy decisions.

Africa is facing a serious nutrition crisis, but ending malnutrition is possible if sustained and bold leadership from every sector can be ensured. Let us all live up to this collective responsibility so that African people, communities and nations can reach their full potential.

By: Kofi Annan
Former UN Secretary-General