Some players in the agriculture sector are calling for the enhancement of bio-fortification in food value chains to address malnutrition issues which are weighing down the economy.
A Bio-fortification Policy Brief by the Harvest Plus Programme, defines bio-fortification as a process by which the nutritional quality of a staple food crop is improved with additional micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals through conventional plant breeding process.
Harvest Plus Programme country manager Dellings Phiri called for the need to strengthen marketing and agro-processing systems to enhance production and access to bio-fortified crops and food products.
Phiri said: “Where we have an economy which is malnourished, obviously, it affects all other parts of the economy. The economy is not productive because all sectors become unproductive, so we have to seriously do something on the nutrition side and that is where bio-fortification has a role to play.
“So, if bio-fortification is enhanced we believe that our economy will actually be nourished and move in the right direction towards growth”.
He bemoaned the absence of a specific national budget in the country for bio-fortification purposes, but argued that if K15 000 is budgeted for per individual in the population for nutrition issues, with K5 000 specifically for bio-fortification, there could be greater achievements in the economy.
In Malawi, Harvest Plus is implementing programmes aimed at improving nutrition by providing nutritious staple food crops which have effects on reducing malnutrition or hidden hunger.
It also provides key staple crops that are nourished with micronutrients that, if taken on a regular basis by communities, will address micronutrient deficiencies.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Erica Maganga said despite national efforts at transforming agriculture, the burden of under-nutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, is huge for Malawi, requiring collaborative efforts.
She said: “The Affordable Inputs Programme is an opportunity for increased access to bio-fortified seeds by smallholder farmers so that they can produce and consume more of the bio-fortified food crops and nutrition benefits”.
She explained that bio-fortification is critical because Malawi’s economy is driven predominantly by agriculture in terms of economic growth, employment, livelihoods, food security and nutrition.
Maganga said government is banking on the National Agriculture Policy (NAP) and the National Agriculture Investment Plan (Naip) to address some of the underlying issues as highlighted in the policy brief.
According to the Ministry of Health, malnutrition issues remain detrimental to the economy as studies have shown that the country is losing 10.3 percent of the national gross domestic product every year due to under-nutrition.
In the health sector, almost 35 percent of the total public budget allocated to the sector is spent on health costs associated with malnutrition in the treatment and management of malnourished children and women.
It is also estimated that 10.7 percent of the working age are absent from work due to child mortality and morbidity associated with under-nutrition.
Economically, it has been estimated that productivity loss resulting from under-nutrition was approximately K132.3 billion, equivalent to 9.3 percent of Malawi’s GDP. The largest share of productivity loss is a result of mortality-related to under-nutrition, which represents 68.6 percent of the total cost.