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 the nutrition potential of $33bn of investments: Banking on Nutrition

Banking on Nutrition is a program helping to generate long-term economic growth across Africa by unlocking the nutrition potential of the African Development Bank’s $33 billion investment portfolio. It involves redesigning the Bank’s investments in areas such as agriculture and water to deliver a greater return by being more “nutrition-smart”, for example by planting nutrient-rich crops. This will help prevent stunting, a condition caused by undernutrition that permanently impairs children’s growth.

Reduced stunting will mean that more children develop into healthy adults, earning more for themselves and contributing more to the economies of their countries. The initiative was launched in May 2016 by the Bank’s President, Akinwumi Adesina in partnership with Big Win Philanthropy and Dangote Foundation.

11% of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa is lost to undernutrition
20% higher earnings by adults who were well-nourished as children
$33bn portfolio is to be harnessed for nutrition potential

Better child nutrition is crucial for Africa’s future economic growth. Children who lack key nutrients in the 1,000 days from conception to the age of two become permanently “stunted” – being shorter, weaker, more vulnerable to disease and less cognitively able. This costs Africa an estimated 11% of GDP. Children who are properly nourished earn 20% more as adults, and good nutrition will help develop Africa’s expanding youth population into a more productive workforce that can secure the economic benefit of a demographic dividend for their countries.

Undernutrition is caused by multiple factors, such as not enough vitamins, proteins and fats in the diet compounded by poor hygiene and sanitation causing diseases which make the body actually lose nutrients. While nutrition-specific services run by the health sector (such as supplements for pregnant mothers) are a necessary part of reducing undernutrition, they are not sufficient. Effective action needs other sectors such as agriculture, water, sanitation, hygiene, social protection and education to become “nutrition smart” – redesigning their programs for maximum nutritional impact. This enables such sectors to deliver a much greater social and economic return on investment, at only marginal extra cost.

The Banking on Nutrition partnership is strengthening the African Development Bank’s capacity to realize the nutrition potential of its existing investments across multiple sectors, and it has a particular focus on agriculture. The African Development Bank has historically invested an average of US$612 million per year in agriculture and agribusiness (during 2011-2015). In the future, as one of its “High 5” strategic priorities, the Bank envisages agricultural investment rising to US$2.4 billion per year. This large increase represents a big opportunity to integrate nutrition-smart interventions into future investments. One area of opportunity is the biofortification of maize, cassava, potato and other staple crops so they are more nutrient-rich. Other areas of opportunity include growing more diverse ranges of crops and increasing livestock ownership, to fill dietary gaps through local production.

An initial assessment stage is producing a situation analysis of the current state of nutrition in the African Development Bank’s investment portfolio, an evidence review across multiple sectors to understand which “nutrition-smart” interventions work best, and a costed plan of action for the future. Following this, the work will enter an implementation stage with nutrition-smart interventions being integrated into a range of existing Bank projects.

The African Development Bank is the continent’s premier development finance institution and is uniquely positioned to address and reposition nutrition as central to development in Africa. It intends to support more investment in nutrition and to provide greater leadership on the issue. Its President, Akinwumi Adesina says, “Nutrition is not just a health and social development issue, nutrition is an investment that shapes economic growth.”