Frontiers in Nutrition and Agriculture for the Big 4 Agenda for Kenya; Where are we and where do we need to go?

The session was an opportunity to define the current status of nutrition in Kenya and how the interactions of nutrition, agriculture, and climate can bring about a positive impact and positive changes to policy.

February 12, 2020

In an effort to define the current status of nutrition in Kenya and how the interactions of nutrition, agriculture, and climate can bring about a positive impact and positive changes to policy. Columbia Global Centers| Nairobi in collaboration with: The African Nutritional Sciences Research Consortium (ANSRC) and The Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University held a one day summit at the Nairobi Global Center that brought together experts from the fields of Nutrition and Agriculture to discuss on matters appertaining to the linkage of nutrition and agriculture to the Kenya big 4 agenda.

Dr. Murugi Ndirangu, Director of Columbia Global Centers| Nairobi in her opening remarks gave an introduction of the Global Center its role in research and education and also highlighted its efforts in spearheading the Millennial Development Goals. She also introduced the Millennial Development Goals and Kenya’s big 4 agenda and highlighted on how the two co-relate with each other.

Dr. Richard Deckelbaum, the Program Advisor to ANSRC, a Professor of Epidemiology and the Director of the institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center, in his introductory remarks, noted the presence of a double burden. This double burden is being brought about by the presence of under and over nutrition. This is a global issue that is affecting billions globally and the worst-case scenario, in this case, being children. According to studies, many children are still undernourished globally and as a result of this, there is a high number in chronic undernourishment. Chronic undernourishment is associated with impaired brain development in children, an estimated 171 million children under the age of 5 years suffer from chronic undernourishment. This is also experienced in adults but it, however, increases the risk of chronic diseases in adults. The most common sign of undernutrition in children is stunted growth, other signs include; wasting, underweight, severe acute malnutrition, chronic malnutrition, low birth weight, Micronutrient deficiencies, and hunger. According to Dr. Richard, the major contributors to undernutrition worldwide in percentage are; food availability that stands at 26%, Health that stands at 19%, Women’s status that stands at 12% and women’s education that stands at 43%.

On the other side of the hand, Dr. Richard Deckelbaum pointed out that, overnutrition and obesity is also a crisis, and is classified amongst the new dangers of cardiovascular diseases and can be classified together with: insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. The cost of obesity treatment generally worldwide is unknown, but in the United States, this runs to a cost of up to 190 billion dollars per year for each person as stated by Dr. Deckelbaum. Recent studies by W.H.O show that projected deaths from cardiovascular diseases are higher in middle-income countries, followed by low income countries and finally, the high income countries and the number of males who die from Cardiovascular diseases are much higher as compared to the women. Furthermore, this number is set to increase in millions in middle and low-income countries come the year 2030 and will be termed as the leading cause of deaths globally according to statistical data 10 years from now.

With this prove of overnutrition and undernutrition being a burden. Dr. Richard Deckelbaum  concluded his presentation by stating that there is a need to increase nutrition programs for they are effective in educating and coming up with solutions and that more intersectoral approaches from agriculture, nutrition and climate are needed in order to increase human productivity and well- being. He further highlighted on the need for new approaches to climate change to prevent hunger and undernutrition as food production could shrink as much as 50% by 2020 in some African countries.

Dr. Gordon Nguka, the chair to ANSRC and the head of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya in his presentation on ‘The current status of Nutrition in Kenya’ pointed out on the definition of malnutrition as a mismatch between body nutrients need and dietary intake. Further highlighting that it is often used to refer to undernutrition, but it exists in both forms of undernutrition and over nutrition. Dr. Gordon further pointed out that according to a USAID 2017 report, Kenya as a Country loses about 38.3 Billion shillings in the productive workforce due to malnutrition and on the other hand, it’s the leading cause of mortality in children. According to the same report, 3.4 million people were food insecure in the year 2017. This data depicts that the nutrition situation in Kenya is yet to improve and the prevalence rate is still high with an increase in population. He further highlighted Kenya as one of the developing countries currently facing the triple burden of malnutrition in the 20th and 21st century characterized by; undernutrition, overnutrition and diseases.

With this in mind, Dr. Gordon emphasized on the solution that malnutrition can be decreased by bringing together minds from the health sector and the agriculture sector to work together in averting this crisis. He also pointed out that the Kenyan government should try and increase government programs that in turn help in addressing the issue of malnutrition.

The current food systems in Kenya are under threat if no action is taken as soon as possible, emphasized Dr. CJ Jones who is a Principal consultant from ACRE Africa during her presentation on ‘Food systems in Kenya’. Dr. CJ. Jones further pointed out that in the years to come by, the future of food systems will be a revolving cycle from; Food processing to food packaging and finally to food retail and due to this fact, it would be really critical if everyone could get on board in determining solutions to food systems change, break the mold and create a dynamic food system. Apart from everyone getting on board, she further pointed out the need to teach nutritionists business modules to assist nutritionists in becoming whole rounded and knowing more about food systems from production to retail. She further emphasized that if Kenya doesn’t get a new wave of farmers or thinkers, just like the innovators of the M- Pesa system, the food production nationally will dwindle in the years to come.

Kenya as a country has a long way to go in far as achieving a society where members are willing to cooperate with each other in order to prosper of which in turn contributes to a wide variety of social outcomes such as health and economic prosperity. This is compounded by the presence of widespread inequality and a high rate of unemployment in the young population under 35 years of age. This is as stated by Dr. Edwardina Ndhine, a Principal scientist from NACOSTI in her presentation on ‘contributions of research, science, technology, and innovation in nutrition and agriculture to national development.  In the contributions of research, science, technology, and innovation in nutrition and agriculture to national development, they are in the frontline in advocating for improved policy and increased interactions between the government and the private sector to improve effective dissemination of research findings and decision making. This will lead to the provision of solutions to the challenges of food production and support strategic alliances connecting nutrition and health. Research, science, technology, and innovation has furthermore provided a shift from the unemployment youth bulge to youth dividend whereby more and more youths are getting engaged.

“There is a need to find the right channels to communicate the nutrition narrative to all stakeholders in order to enable full impact with everyone on board,” Stated Ciiru Waithaka during the Panel discussion on ‘Gaps in nutrition education, training and capacity building in East Africa’.  She further insisted that due to malnutrition cases, there are lots of mental health issues in schools of which in turn leads to the lack of concentration for the students when being taught. During the panel discussion, Prof. Bonnie Dunbar made her presentation on ‘Survey of Ph.D. Programs in Nutrition and Infrastructure support’. According to a survey of Ph.D. programs in nutrition and infrastructure support of 18 institutions in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, there is need for Ph.D. training in basic sciences in human nutrition and agriculture and also a Ph.D. training of students in a program that is competitive with ‘International Standards’.

“The climate serves as a critical driver of diets and nutrition,” this is as stated by Shauna Dawns on their panelist discussion on Integrating agriculture and nutrition with climate change. This goes on to depict that, the climate, food systems, and nutrition do influence each other in one way or the other.

Mr. Dhiren Chandaria on the Panel discussion on ‘recommendations- where do we need to go’ pointed out that in order to ascertain where do we need to go, we should all ask ourselves as a country what we can do to help grow the thin wallets in Kenya. If an approximate of 10 million Kenyans ask themselves this question and do something about it, we as a country will be a step further in terms of nutrition and agriculture. This will at an extent play a great role in reducing the illiteracy levels at the bottom of the pyramid and thus will play a great role in wealth creation.  According to panelist Patrick Codjia, for us to make this step on ‘where do we need to go’, we should all ask ourselves, who do we need to go with and where do we need to go, once we can all answer this as a country, we will be a step ahead in nutrition and health information systems. He further insisted on the need for reviewing the curriculum we have in nutrition as Kenya and apply changes where necessary.