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Strengthening Africa's Crisis Response Capacity – Toward a Nutrition-driven Vulnerability Index

By Layih Butake


Every time an African country faces a crisis, from conflicts, droughts, health emergencies, and, most recently, the Russia-Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the persistently high level of chronic vulnerability.

AKADEMIYA2063 proposes a two-pronged approach to generating the knowledge required to strengthen crisis response capacities in Africa – first, the development of a composite vulnerability indicator that captures communities' susceptibility to shocks along multiple dimensions; and second, a measure of nutritional status such as the gap in micronutrient adequacy to target and assess the impact of interventions to reduce chronic vulnerability. "It is not necessary nor acceptable that every shock leads to large-scale suffering and disruption of community livelihoods. It is possible for African countries to tackle chronic vulnerability and boost our capacities to absorb shocks," said Dr. Badiane, AKADEMIYA2063's Executive Chairperson.

The March 9 AKADEMIYA2063 Board Seminar, held in Dakar, Senegal, assembled key international development and government stakeholders to debate strategies to mobilize policy instruments, institutional infrastructure, and resources to strengthen Africa's capacity to react more promptly and efficiently in responding to shocks.

2022 African Union (AU) Year of Nutrition

The seminar came on the heels of a four-part policy webinar series on nutrition and food security organized by AKADEMIYA2063 and Senegal's Conseil National de Développement de la Nutrition (CNDN) in support of the AU Year of Nutrition. Dr. Godfrey Bahiigwa, Director, Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy, and Sustainable Environment, AU Commission, recalled the context in his opening remarks.

Dr. Bahiigwa pointed out that the 2021 CAADP Biennial Review report showed that only Kenya, out of the 51 AU member states that reported, was on track to meet CAADP nutrition targets by 2025.

"As a result, the AU dedicated 2022 to addressing malnutrition and food security. In February 2022, the AU Assembly adopted the Declaration on Food Fortification and Biofortification as one of the measures the continent can take to improve nutrition outcomes".

Part of the challenge is taking the outcomes of the various engagements, and motivating member states to take action. "And that is where the work of AKADEMIYA2063 comes in handy; to produce and disseminate cutting-edge evidence that we can use to inform decisions and strategy formulation. And on that note, I would like to thank AKADEMIYA2063 for their work on the impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis on Africa's food systems," he added.

From Community Vulnerability and Nutritional Status to Crisis Preparedness

The keynote from Dr. Badiane discussed the approach of the Nutrient Smart Processing and Trade (NSPT) project, which seeks to identify priority interventions for addressing micronutrient deficiencies in Senegal. Led by AKADEMIYA2063, the project is implemented in collaboration with CNDN, with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

The research findings will make good fodder for the development of a comprehensive indicator, including the level of household micronutrient deficiency, to identify and protect communities most vulnerable to shocks. "The work on tracking community-level vulnerability and nutritional status is a big part of our portfolio and our efforts to boost preparedness and response capacities in the face of frequent and disruptive shocks," said Dr. Badiane.

There is an urgent need to invest in better understanding of the patterns and nature of community-level vulnerability and subsequently take deliberate, sustained action targeting its key drivers to boost resilience. "The proposed composite community vulnerability and micronutrient deficiency indicators provide a simple and cost-effective means to identify priority investments to reduce vulnerability in normal times, as well as plan and target response measures in times of crises," he added.

Stakeholder Perspectives

Stakeholders in attendance included AKADEMIYA2063 Trustees Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, Dr. Terri Sarch, and Mr. Vickson Ncube; Dr. Amadou Lamine Dia, Technical Advisor at Senegal's Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Equipment and Food Sovereignty; Mr. Amadou Sall Dial, Director of Industrial Redeployment, Ministry of Industrial Development and Small and Medium Industries; Ms. Aminata Ndoye, Executive Secretary, CNDN; Dr. Tom van Mourik, Global Advisor, Food Systems, Helen Keller International; Mr. Matteo Marchisio, Head of the Regional Hub for the Sahel and Senegal Country Representative for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); Mr. Siméon Nanama, Regional Nutrition Advisor, UNICEF West and Central Africa; and Ms. Fatiha Terki, Senegal Country Director, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Aminata Ndoye, Executive Secretary of CNDN, said that the embedding of nutrition at the highest political levels in Senegal attests to the importance accorded to malnutrition and food security. "Now we understand the role of good nutrition in socioeconomic development," she said. Nevertheless, data availability remains a challenge. The lack of up-to-date nutrition data prevents Senegal from measuring the impact of COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war on nutrition and vulnerable groups", Ms. Ndoye said.

Addressing the data availability question, Dr. Ousmane Badiane stated: "What we have here can be useful to all those working to fight vulnerability and enhance resilience. Such an easy-to-generate and easy-to-use instrument allows for timely and steady tracking of progress to see whether we are achieving results or losing resources and time. The tool we propose will help us better target efforts for improved outcomes".

Other stakeholder interventions reiterated the need for a comprehensive approach that caters to healthcare, social services, access to nutritious food, crop diversification, private sector involvement, and, ultimately, Africa's broader economic development.

"The impacts of shocks at the community level are simply a reflection of adverse structural conditions that need to be understood and analyzed in order to strengthen nutrition response capacity to meet Africa's development agenda, including the Malabo Declaration and the continent's collective commitment to eliminate hunger by 2025," said Dr. Amadou Lamine Dia, Technical Advisor at Senegal's Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Equipment and Food Sovereignty.

Layih Butake is the Director of Communication and Outreach at AKADEMIYA2063.