Women can play a mul­ti­pur­pose role in end­ing mal­nu­tri­tion and poverty

Pro­grammes fo­cused on em­pow­er­ing women – par­tic­u­larly those of re­pro­duc­tive age in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties – and giv­ing them more op­por­tu­ni­ties should in­clude fa­cil­i­tat­ing their ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, agri­cul­tural re­sources, fi­nan­cial ser­vices and ex­ten­sion servi

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - MOJISOLA KARIGIDI

Awealthy pop­u­la­tion is able to pur­chase an as­sort­ment of foods, in­clud­ing an­i­mal prod­ucts like meat, fish, egg, and milk, which are rich in pro­tein. Those who have the af­ford­abil­ity can also buy fruits and veg­eta­bles, which are rich in es­sen­tial vi­ta­mins and min­er­als.

The re­verse is of­ten the case for the poor who usu­ally lack ac­cess to the right va­ri­eties of food at the right pro­por­tions. Many times, all they can af­ford are en­er­gyrich sta­ple foods, de­priv­ing the body of other es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents re­quired for proper growth and de­vel­op­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, more than half (51.4%) of the ex­treme poor live in sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa (SSA). And ma­jor­ity of the global poor are found in ru­ral ar­eas.

The lat­est United Na­tions re­port on the num­ber of un­der­nour­ished peo­ple in the world shows that un­der­nour­ish­ment has been on the rise since 2014, reach­ing an es­ti­mated 821 mil­lion peo­ple in 2017. Un­for­tu­nately, 151 mil­lion of those af­fected (or 18.4%) are chil­dren un­der the age of five. Be­tween 2016 and 2017, the num­ber of hun­gry peo­ple in the world – that is, those deal­ing with chronic food de­pri­va­tion – in­creased by 17 mil­lion. Food de­pri­va­tion af­fects 256 mil­lion peo­ple in Africa (or 21% of the pop­u­la­tion). This means Africa has the high­est Preva­lence of Un­der­nour­ish­ment (PoU), although Asia has the high­est ab­so­lute num­ber of un­der­nour­ished peo­ple in the world, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO).

In West Africa, for ex­am­ple, there has been a very sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in PoU be­tween 2014 and 2017. This value is ac­counted for by over 36 mil­lion peo­ple in the re­gion. Yet, un­der the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGs), the world has a tar­get to end all forms of mal­nu­tri­tion by 2030. These in­clude stunt­ing and wast­ing in chil­dren. The SDG tar­get also in­volves sort­ing out the nu­tri­tional needs of women of re­pro­duc­tive age, preg­nant women and nurs­ing moth­ers and the el­derly.

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO) de­fines stunt­ing in chil­dren as the im­pair­ment of growth and de­vel­op­ment due to in­ad­e­quate nu­tri­tion, re­oc­cur­ring in­fec­tion and the com­bined in­flu­ence that eco­nomic and so­cial fac­tors in the en­vi­ron­ment have on their phys­i­cal and men­tal well­be­ing. Chil­dren who are too short for their age and are not grow­ing well are said to be stunted; while wast­ing refers to a con­di­tion in which a child is too thin for his or her height. Wast­ing in chil­dren in­creases their sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to dis­eases and FAO es­ti­mates the preva­lence of wast­ing in Africa to be 7.4% of its pop­u­la­tion in 2016.

The root cause of house­hold food in­se­cu­rity is poverty. Poverty and mal­nu­tri­tion have a di­rect link. There­fore, for us to achieve the goal of zero hunger by 2030, we must first put an end to poverty in Africa. Oth­er­wise, Africa may be­come chiefly re­spon­si­ble for the in­abil­ity to ac­tu­alise the se­cond SDG.

As rightly stated by Prof Jose Graziano da Sil­ver, the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the FAO, “un­less eco­nomic growth is made more in­clu­sive, the global goals of end­ing poverty and achiev­ing zero hunger by 2030 will not be reached.” I see the real­ity of this state­ment ev­ery­day in Ibadan, the city where I live in Nige­ria. It is now com­mon­place to find many able-bodied men and women – along­side their chil­dren – beg­ging for alms. This is the case in al­most ev­ery city in Nige­ria as the coun­try has be­come the poverty cap­i­tal of the world, hav­ing over­taken In­dia as the coun­try with the high­est num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in ex­treme poverty.

To be sure, peo­ple openly live on the streets of the world’s ma­jor ur­ban cen­tres. In fact, it is es­ti­mated that as much as 150 mil­lion peo­ple (or about 2% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion) are home­less, and up to 1.6 bil­lion (over 20% of global pop­u­la­tion) lack ad­e­quate hous­ing, based on a sur­vey in 2015 by the UN. To bring these fig­ures closer home, the Bu­reau of Pub­lic Ser­vice Re­forms (BPSR), in 2017, stated that over 108 mil­lion Nige­ri­ans were tech­ni­cally home­less.

There may not be enough ev­i­dence to prove that ev­ery­one liv­ing on the street is as a re­sult of poverty be­cause there are other rea­sons for home­less­ness. Some peo­ple are suf­fer­ing from drug ad­dic­tion, while oth­ers may have been dis­placed as a re­sult of con­flicts or ad­verse weather con­di­tions like flood. But when you see sev­eral “fam­i­lies of beg­gars,” it nar­rows down the prox­i­mate rea­son for their home­less­ness to poverty. Poverty is also the rea­son these peo­ple may not be able to meet the nu­tri­tional needs of their mem­bers.

Be­cause women play a very cru­cial role in nu­tri­tion, par­tic­u­larly child nu­tri­tion, we must work to en­sure that poverty erad­i­ca­tion pro­grammes are gen­der sen­si­tive and in­clu­sive. When women and girls are em­pow­ered, fam­i­lies tend to be health­ier. Em­pow­er­ing women is, in fact, very im­por­tant be­cause women are of­ten the pri­mary care­givers. The re­sult of such em­pow­er­ment will be an im­prove­ment in the nu­tri­tional sta­tus of chil­dren, who even­tu­ally be­come adults, and the en­tire house­hold.

Aside this, a more crit­i­cal rea­son for em­pow­er­ing women is to re­duce the high in­ci­dence of ane­mia in preg­nant women in low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries. Ane­mia – a con­di­tion in which a per­son lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry ad­e­quate oxy­gen to the body’s tis­sues – af­fects 50% of preg­nant women in these coun­tries. This hap­pens when the woman’s diet is short of iron and fo­late-rich foods.

But if preg­nant women can af­ford to eat pro­tein-rich foods – such as meat, fish, eggs and so on – and leafy veg­eta­bles and fruits; and if they are also able to pur­chase mul­ti­vi­ta­min and min­eral pills for ad­di­tional fo­late, thou­sands of lives could be saved.

More­over, data from UNICEF pegs the num­ber of Low Birth Weight (LBW) in in­fants at birth in SSA in 2014 at 13%. The good news is that if we em­power more women and give them greater op­por­tu­ni­ties to thrive lo­cally in their coun­tries, the in­ci­dence of ane­mia and ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity, which are of­ten caused by un­der­nour­ish­ment and LBW, could be greatly re­duced.

If we must end mal­nu­tri­tion by 2030, our ef­forts to end poverty must be­gin with em­pow­er­ing women and ado­les­cent girls as well as pro­mot­ing in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth. In­clu­sive eco­nomic growth en­tails an in­crease in the eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion of a coun­try’s pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity, thereby cre­at­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­one to thrive. The Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion says that an in­clu­sive econ­omy al­lows ex­panded op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially for those faced with the big­gest ob­sta­cles to ad­vanc­ing their well­be­ing. The aim of in­clu­sive growth is to carry ev­ery­one along the growth lad­der and broaden shared pros­per­ity.

There­fore, pro­grammes fo­cused on em­pow­er­ing women – par­tic­u­larly those of re­pro­duc­tive age in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties – and giv­ing them more op­por­tu­ni­ties should in­clude fa­cil­i­tat­ing their ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, agri­cul­tural re­sources, fi­nan­cial ser­vices and ex­ten­sion ser­vices.

Ed­u­ca­tion in ru­ral ar­eas should be taken more se­ri­ously with more gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment in that sec­tor. Many ru­ral house­holds who can­not af­ford to ed­u­cate all their chil­dren of­ten de­cide to leave the girls be­hind while the boys go to school. These girls later be­come vic­tims of wrong choices and early mar­riages. They give birth to too many chil­dren, thereby adding to the ab­so­lute num­ber of the ex­treme poor in the so­ci­ety.

Giv­ing ru­ral women ac­cess to agri­cul­tural re­sources and fi­nan­cial sup­port will draw coun­tries closer to achiev­ing shared pros­per­ity. As a re­sult, the num­ber of women who would leave their ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to beg for alms in the streets of ur­ban cen­tres will be greatly re­duced.

We also have to pro­mote women’s ac­cess to fair labour mar­kets and de­cent jobs – even for those with the low­est level of ed­u­ca­tion. These ef­forts to end poverty through sup­port­ing and em­pow­er­ing women and other vul­ner­a­ble groups will help us achieve the SDG zero-hunger and mal­nu­tri­tion tar­gets by 2030. Fi­nan­cial Nige­ria Colum­nist, Mojisola Karigidi, 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.

These ef­forts to end poverty through sup­port­ing and em­pow­er­ing women and other vul­ner­a­ble groups will help us achieve the SDG zero-hunger and mal­nu­tri­tion tar­gets by 2030.

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