The Nutrition Village program in Madagascar co-ordinates action by the health, education, water and agriculture sectors. The African Development Bank may soon invest to involve the transport sector as well in this multi-sector approach to nutrition.

Unlocking nutrition investment: Banking on Nutrition with the African Development Bank

The Big Win

In 2020, more than 40% of the world’s stunted children under the age of five lived in Africa. It is the only region in the world where the number of stunted children has risen in the past few years.

This has a significant human and economic cost. Africa loses $25 billion per year in costs attributed to child morbidity and mortality, and impaired cognitive, physical, and economic development caused by malnutrition. Yet these losses are almost entirely preventable. To realize its human and economic potential, Africa must invest in nutrition – particularly during the 1,000 days between conception and the age of two – as a crucial foundation for productivity later in life.

To address this crisis, the African Development Bank, Big Win Philanthropy, and the Aliko Dangote Foundation formed the Banking on Nutrition partnership in 2015 to scale up the proportion of the Bank’s investments that are ‘nutrition-smart.’ Nutrition-smart projects are those that are grounded in the five focus sectors of health, agriculture, WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), social protection, and education and include all of the following: one or more nutrition-related objectives/goals, a nutrition-related activity/intervention, and a nutrition-related indicator at the outcome or impact level.

The Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan, released in 2018, announced the Bank’s ambitious target of investing at least 50% of its agriculture and health portfolios in nutrition-smart investments and set the goal of reducing stunting by 40% amongst African children under five years old by 2025.

In 2021, the Banking on Nutrition partnership released a progress report for the first five years of efforts (2015-2020). The Bank has allocated $2.3 billion to nutrition-smart projects and 18% of the Bank’s total projects are now nutrition-smart.

40% stunting reduction amongst African children under 5 by 2025
50% of AfDB agriculture & health investments nutrition smart by 2025

The AfDB-Big Win Partnership

When President Akinwumi Adesina assumed leadership of the African Development Bank in 2015, among his first commitments was to rebalance the Bank’s portfolio to invest more deliberately in people and human capital development in Africa. Big Win Philanthropy has worked with the Bank since this time to identify the best opportunities for the Bank and its member countries to leverage their existing and developing portfolio to make nutrition-smart investments.

The African continent has the potential to become a powerhouse of productivity in the 21st century, but it cannot sustain rates of economic growth and integrate its unprecedented youth population without addressing its high rate of stunting and its effect on the economy. Historically, the Bank has concentrated its investments in power and physical infrastructure and has only allocated 20% of its full portfolio to nutrition-focused investments. By mobilizing its vast investment platform and through the commitment of its senior leadership and board, the Bank will advocate and champion a new approach to human capital by developing ‘grey matter infrastructure’ and harnessing its people’s brain power.

The Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan 2018-2025 aims to redesign the Bank’s investments in areas such as agriculture, WASH, social protection, health, and education to become nutrition-smart and deliver a greater social and economic return alongside achieving nutrition impact. In 2020, the Bank had already surpassed its targeted proportion of nutrition-smart projects in the WASH and social protection sectors and had made significant progress towards meeting the targets for health and agriculture.

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%

The African Development Bank is in a unique position to encourage multiple sectors and other actors to prioritize nutrition as a central development target, unlocking the human and economic potential of Africa. The Bank will encourage other investors to follow their lead to accelerate the pace of change. This approach is channeling more resources and funding to tackle stunting and malnutrition in Africa and will mobilize broad political commitment to make this a priority.

“The greatest contributor to economic growth is not physical infrastructure, but brainpower: what I refer to as “grey matter infrastructure”. Stunted children today leads to stunted economies tomorrow. Let us, together, end the scourge of malnutrition. It is well within our reach to do so, and the evidence is overwhelming that we must act – and act now.”

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank

Big Win’s Support

In collaboration with the Aliko Dangote Foundation and technical partners Nutrition International, Big Win is providing financial, technical, and training assistance to the African Development Bank on this initiative. We supported the Bank in developing the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan that lays out a three-part approach:

1. Mainstreaming nutrition into the Bank’s portfolio and pipeline, including Regional and Country strategies, lending programs, and other activities;

The Bank has identified specific interventions in the five sectors that have the greatest impact on nutrition: health, agriculture, WASH, social protection, and education. These interventions will be incorporated into the Bank’s investment (debt and equity) pipeline for regional country members.

2. Working to increase the production and consumption of safe and nutritious foods, through partnerships with regional and private stakeholders;

The Bank will prioritize integrating nutrition-smart interventions into projects in its agricultural pipeline, promoting technologies that increase the production of safe and nutritious foods, and boosting agro-based spatial development strategies and agro-industrial infrastructure.

3. Encouraging regional member countries to prioritize nutrition-smart lending requests and investments that deliver greater social and economic return alongside achieving nutritional impact, representing a double win.

In collaboration with the Aliko Dangote Foundation and other partners, Big Win is providing technical and training assistance to the Bank to launch the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) initiative in 2017 to drive progress on existing continental and global nutrition targets. This will be achieved by strengthening political engagement, building partnerships, and collecting evidence through nutrition advocacy tools that encourage accountability and accelerate action.

Big Win also helped to create the Nutrition Dashboard that is being used to monitor how the Bank is delivering on the targets laid out in the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan and the Continental Nutrition Accountability Scorecard, launched in 2019, which serves as a key advocacy tool to highlight the progress of both individual countries and of the continent as a whole towards achieving nutrition targets. The scorecard is an important component of the Bank’s efforts to mobilize country-led action to address stunting. By monitoring and highlighting the progress of its activities and the broader impact of countries’ efforts on nutrition, the Bank aims to put nutrition high up on the political agenda across the African continent.

Big Win has also supported the design and implementation of a training program, in partnership with the Aliko Dangote Foundation and Nutrition International, to equip task managers from different sectors of the Bank to design, implement, and track nutrition-smart investments. Big Win supported the Bank’s rollout of the tool to its entire staff and to monitor how it is used, with the aim of ensuring that all investments are considered through a nutrition lens. The current phase of support is focused on building the capacity of the Nigeria country office and other West African country offices to embed nutrition in their programming and continue to grow the number of nutrition-smart projects.
  1.  The MNAP does not specify a target for the fifth sector, education.