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ECOWAS Forum Highlights Need For Nutrition To Be Integrated With Agriculture

A recent nutrition forum, held by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), looked at how to better incorporate nutrition into agriculture, IRIN reports. “Health, nutrition and agriculture experts from the 15 ECOWAS countries said nutrition usually gains attention only in the context of crisis and emergency response, but it should be integral to agricultural and development programmes if countries are to pre-empt child malnutrition,” according to the news service.

“Today everyone agrees that the health, nutrition and agriculture sectors must work together, but … they do not understand one another,” said Ismael Thiam, a nutrition officer for ECOWAS West African Health Organization. “Their policies are developed separately, their data collection efforts are separate.” Thiam added, “What the agriculture sector collects is not what is needed to know the nutritional implications; availability of food has nothing to do with [the biological composition and benefits].”

To address the issue, “agriculture technicians” must develop “a clear understanding of nutrition,” said Narcisse Litaaba-Akila of Togo’s Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Ministry. Victoria Lebbie, who heads the women in agriculture and nutrition unit in Sierra Leone’s Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Ministry, said often policymakers are not aware of the importance of nutrition. “To them it’s just cooking,” she said. “But nutrition is not only cooking – it goes beyond that. It’s agriculture; it’s all about production, processing, preservation, utilisation.”

A representative from the Nigeria Agriculture Ministry’s national food security program recommended local education programs. “In most countries, as in Nigeria for instance, we have a lot of [agriculture] groups – livestock groups, poultry groups, fisheries groups, and women’s groups that are well-formed and they are involved in a lot of agricultural activities,” the representative said. “Women do most of the agricultural production, processing, storage and utilization. So if … [they] are taught about nutrition … we will be able to combat malnutrition.”

The piece also includes quotes from an official with Guinea’s Health Ministry (9/27).

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