The food challenge in sub-Saharan Africa: balancing quantity and nutrition in a changing climate

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Sub-Saharan Africa faces enormous food security challenges. With the population of sub-Saharan Africa projected to reach 1.9 billion by 2050, the region’s fast-growing population must be fed in the face of a changing climate and limited agricultural resources. A new study led by Dr. Stewart Jennings of the University of Leeds highlights the urgent need for a multifaceted approach to ensure the future quantity and nutritional quality of food in the region.

The food challenge in sub-Saharan Africa: balancing quantity and nutrition in a changing climate

Diversification beyond maize: The study emphasizes the need to move away from dependence on maize to more diversified agricultural systems. Crops such as cassava, millet, sorghum, and even fruits and vegetables provide valuable micronutrients that are often lacking in the staple maize diet. Such dietary diversification is critical to combating “food and nutrition insecurity” and promoting overall health.

Increase yields: However, crop diversification alone is not enough. Research emphasizes the need to significantly increase total food production. This will require better farming practices to increase yields and potentially bring more land under cultivation, a move that will require careful consideration of the consequences for the environment.

Climate Change Issues: The looming issue of climate change adds another layer of complexity. Farmers will need to adapt to increasingly extreme weather patterns and select crops that can adapt to these changes. Failure to do so will further jeopardize the food and nutrition security of millions of people.

Nutrition at the heart of policy: The study calls for a fundamental shift in agricultural policy to prioritize nutrition. Isolated policies that focus only on production must give way to holistic approaches that consider both the quantity and quality of food. This requires collaboration across government departments and the active participation of stakeholders in the food and agriculture sectors.

Transformative approaches are needed. The researchers advocate for “transformative adaptation” to agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. This includes exploring options such as increasing soybean production, which is both resilient to climate change and offers potential income growth for farmers. However, diversification of protein sources, including a modest increase in animal products, must be done in a sustainable way to avoid harming the environment.

The study, published in Nature Food, emphasizes the urgency and complexity of the food security challenge in sub-Saharan Africa. By adopting diversification measures, increasing yields, adapting to climate change and prioritizing nutrition in policies, the region can work towards a future in which all inhabitants have access to sufficiently nutritious food.

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