Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

Food price volatility will limit the achievement of SDG 2 in Africa 08 Nov 2023

Increase in food prices, or food price inflation, especially for animal-based protein sources, causes a decline in the purchasing power of individuals and households, significantly reducing the consumption of protein-rich foods in developing countries. Food inflation, which heightens the inability to purchase and consume nutritious foods, is a major contributor to the slow progress of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 2.2, aimed at ending all forms of malnutrition, halving stunting and wasting in children under 5 by 2030, and meeting the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons.

The 2023 edition of the Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organisation (WHO), and the World Bank Group, covering 2000-2022 and released in May this year, shows that Africa and Asia have the highest number of malnourished children who are suffering from stunting or wasting. According to the report, only about one third of all countries will be able to cut down the number of stunted children by half by 2030, while there is zero possibility of assessing the progress towards the wasting target for close to half of all countries globally.

Two out of five children suffering from stunting lived in Africa in 2022, while around a quarter of those affected by wasting lived on the continent in the same year. The 2030 target will be missed if the current trend continues. Africa is home to about 80 percent of the millions of children who will remain malnourished.

Stunting is a condition in which a child is too short for his or her age. It can result in severe irreversible physical and cognitive damages that can last a lifetime or even extend to the next generation. Wasting is a condition in which a child is too thin for his or her height due to rapid weight loss or inability to gain weight. Although the number of countries with very high prevalence of stunting globally has declined by 40 percent since 2012 from 46 to 28 countries, stunting in children under 5 has increased significantly in Middle (or Central) Africa, from 10 million affected children in 2012 to 12.9 million in 2022. Western Africa has also experienced an increase in the number of stunted children from 19.9 million in 2012 to 20.5 million in 2022. For the 2022 wasting report, Asia has the highest wasting prevalence with 31.6 million children affected. This was followed by Africa with 12.2 million wasted children less than 5 years of age.

A further break down of the data for the African region shows Western Africa had the highest number of wasted children (4.6 million), followed by Eastern Africa (3.5 million), Middle Africa (1.9 million), and Northern Africa (1.8 million).

According to a study recently published in Nature Communications journal by researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Sri Lanka and the United States, a 5 percent increase in food prices can on average increase the risk of wasting by 9 percent and severe wasting by 14 percent. Millions of infants, older children, adolescents, and women – pregnant and lactating – in LMICs are typically experiencing a decline in diet quality as a result of food inflation. In Nigeria –Africa’s largest economy, inflation rate rose from 25.80 percent in August 2023 to 26.72 percent in September according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Worst still, food inflation rate increased from 23.34 percent in September 2022 to 30.64 percent in September 2023 – a 7.30 percentage points increase.

Apart from the general increase in the prices of food items such as rice, yam, cassava flour and other staples, we have seen up to 30 percent rise in the prices of animal-based protein sources such as beef, fish, egg, milk, cheese, etc. As a result of high poverty rate, thousands of Nigerian households now have a higher tendency to reduce or eliminate protein sources from their diet. Carbohydrate-rich foods are more filling and can satiate food need at lesser cost compared to most protein-rich foods. In this case, however, we are sitting on a proverbial ticking time bomb if the current trend of food inflation, especially for protein-rich foods, continues. The risk of wasting will increase by an estimated 13.14 percent while the risk of severe wasting can reach 20.44 percent increase.

Proteins are built from amino acids. Some of these amino acids are essential and must be obtained from diets while others are non-essential and can be synthesized by the body. Consuming adequate quality and quantity of protein is important for growth, replacement of used amino acids, the body’s regulatory and catalytic functions, protection against infection, and provision of alternative source of energy.

Protein requirement varies depending on age and the physiological status of an individual. It is higher for expectant and lactating women. Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) – a condition which interferes with growth and development – is prevalent in developing countries including Nigeria and might result in stunting and wasting. Severe PEM causes kwashiorkor – a severe form of malnutrition characterised by a swollen belly in children, and marasmus characterised by muscular wasting and loss of fat. Kwashiorkor is majorly caused by protein deficiency while marasmus occurs when there is deficiency of macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Common symptoms of both conditions include fatigue, irritability, stunted growth, and impairment of cognition and mental health.  

Cutting down the prices of plant and animal-based protein sources is essential to improving the purchasing ability of the poor majority in developing countries. It is also highly necessary to enable African countries achieve SDG 2. Governments on the continent must now respond swiftly to food price volatility. There should be strong policies and investments on the part of government bodies to increase the supply of agricultural food products. Many times, increases in the costs of farm inputs, such as feeds, seeds, fertilisers, pest control chemicals, and other requirements to enable agricultural activities and food production, trigger increments in the market price of food items. Investing in farm inputs can help to stabilise production cost for farmers.

Moreover, increased investment in rural infrastructure should be pursued by both federal and state governments to support agribusiness. Good access roads from farm to markets, steady power supply, processing and storage facilities, and irrigation systems are some of the infrastructures that can improve food production and also reduce cost of production, which will in turn reduce the market prices of food items. For animal-based protein sources such as meat, milk, eggs and fish, government support with low-cost feed for farm animals, poultry birds and fishes will lower the market prices of these products as producers spend less.

A competitive supply chain could significantly reduce prices of food products or stabilise them for longer periods. When supply exceeds demand, market price will be affected in favour of consumers, but we must avoid glut of agricultural products by making sure farmers have the resources to get their products to market as soon as they are ready for sale. Eliminating food supply shortages is crucial for price stability. Policy measures should be in place to support more producers and regulate market prices to make nutritious foods affordable for all.

Many times, middlemen and retailers are responsible for the ridiculous rise in the prices of food products. Policies must be enacted to stop retailers and middlemen from taking advantage of adverse economic situations to enrich themselves at the expense of consumers. Such policies can help to control prices and reduce domestic price volatility of food items. Deficiency in protein-rich foods and other nutrient-dense food products as a result of high prices will worsen malnutrition. The current stunting and wasting statistics in Africa can cause longer delays in ending malnutrition and meeting the nutritional needs of the populace.

Mojisola Karigidi, PhD, a Financial Nigeria Columnist, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.