Banking on Nutrition: $2.3 billion allocated to “nutrition-smart” projects in partnership’s first five years

The African Development Bank has released a progress report on the first five years of its Banking on Nutrition partnership with Big Win Philanthropy and the Aliko Dangote Foundation, which aims to reduce malnutrition and boost cognitive development across the continent.

The report revealed that the efforts under the partnership have resulted in $2.3 billion of the Bank’s portfolio being allocated to projects with nutrition goals, accounting for 18% of all investments. The partnership has also led to the development of comprehensive monitoring and accountability tools to optimize opportunities for nutrition integration across projects developed by the Bank’s member states.

The report forecasts that the partnership’s successes will multiply as the work continues—achieving crucial gains in the fight against malnutrition on the African continent.

The Banking on Nutrition Partnership was formed in 2015 to support African Development Bank President Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina’s commitment to rebalance the Bank’s portfolio towards more investment in people and human capital. It seeks to build up Africa’s ‘grey matter infrastructure’—its brainpower—by improving cognitive development with nutrition-smart projects.

Nutrition-smart projects are defined as projects that have one or more nutrition-related objectives or goals, a nutrition-related activity or intervention, and a nutrition-related indicator at the outcome or impact level.

One of the key areas identified as needing greater attention was stunting, a pervasive problem caused by poor nutrition that has significant human and economic costs. In 2019, two out of five of the world’s stunted children under the age of five were living in Africa—up from just over one-third in 2017.

Stunting is caused by a lack of nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life from conception to the age of two and results in children being shorter, weaker, more vulnerable to disease, and less cognitively capable. These effects resonate throughout society as children grow up; across Africa governments lose $25 billion per year in the direct costs of child morbidity and mortality. Beyond this immediate impact, the impairments to individuals’ cognitive and physical development in turn hinder their ability to fully contribute to driving economic development.

To tackle this problem, the partnership took a three-part approach: mainstreaming nutrition into the Bank’s investment portfolios, increasing the production and consumption of safe and nutritious foods, and encouraging regional member countries to prioritize nutrition-smart investments. In 2019, Nutrition International, a not-for-profit organization, was retained to supply technical expertise in malnutrition interventions.

The partnership identified five crucial sectors to refocus the Bank’s investments on nutrition: water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), agriculture, social protection, health, and education. These five sectors account for over 30% of government spending in Africa and serve as underlying drivers of nutrition.

The partnership then developed the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan (2018-2025), which announced the ambitious target of reducing stunting by 40% among African children under five years old by 2025. The action plan also aims to reallocate the Bank’s investment portfolio in the priority sectors to nutrition smart investments, as seen in the chart below. Big Win played a key role in providing technical assistance and strategic support to guide the implementation of the MNAP.

Increasing the proportion of nutrition smart projects: Baseline (2015-2018) and early wins (2020)[1]

Sector Baseline Early wins Target
Health 0% 27.7% 50%
Agriculture 15.3% 27.9% 50%
WASH 2.9% 15.7% 15%
Social Protection 7.1% 30.9% 10%


Redesigning investments in the five focus sectors to be nutrition smart is the most efficient and effective way to deliver both greater social and economic return and impact alongside achieving nutrition impact—a double win for the African Development Bank and its member countries.

The “Banking on Nutrition Partnership Progress Report 2015-2020” also showcases the technical support provided to develop an operational toolkit that will guide the integration of nutrition into projects across sectors, including a nutrition dashboard and a “Continental Accountability Scorecard.” The nutrition dashboard tracks the Bank’s performance towards the goals of the MNAP, while the accountability scorecard highlights the progress of both individual countries and of the continent as a whole towards achieving nutrition targets. These tools will help to shape implementation and keep plans on track to meet nutrition targets.

Looking to the future, the Banking on Nutrition partnership aims to roll out more multi-sectoral and nutrition-smart projects in priority countries and accelerate action towards attaining the World Health Assembly targets for nutrition by 2025. Reducing malnutrition and stunting has the potential to boost GDP by 11% and increase the future earnings per child by 20% while contributing to the development of Africa’s grey matter infrastructure—a big win for Africa.

You can read the full report here.

[1] Note: The MNAP does not specify a target for the fifth sector, education.