New light on sub-Saharan nutrition research

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa still suffer from high rates of malnutrition, despite international efforts to address the issue. An EU-funded project brought together African researchers and stakeholder organisations to define research priorities that could improve results and strengthen the continent's capacity in this field.

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


 

Published: 8 May 2018  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Agriculture & foodFood safety & health risks
Health & life sciencesHealth & poverty
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Belgium  |  Benin  |  France  |  Netherlands  |  South Africa  |  Spain  |  Sweden  |  Tanzania  |  Uganda  |  United Kingdom
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New light on sub-Saharan nutrition research

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Malnutrition is a major concern for countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Although a 2000 Millennium Development Goal was to cut hunger in half, nutrition initiatives in this part of the world have not had the success seen elsewhere. The SUNRAY project brought together African nutrition researchers and stakeholders to re-think action for the region.

Together they identified gaps in current research and proposed new focus areas that could produce better outcomes. They also proposed ways of increasing African research capacity so that nutrition policies are more responsive to local contexts.

“There is a big divide between the external research agenda and African needs,” says SUNRAY project coordinator Patrick Kolsteren, previously at the Prince Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine and now at Ghent University, both in Belgium. He adds that African researchers are in a unique position to correctly identify underlying causes of malnutrition and potential solutions.

Adjusting the focus

The project’s analysis of research on sub-Saharan nutrition showed that although much is published by African researchers, it is rarely directly applicable to policy development and there is little cross-border collaboration within Africa. Meanwhile, internationally-led research emphasises treatment and technical solutions for malnutrition crises and is far removed from priorities suggested by African research.

SUNRAY participants proposed that research into community-based malnutrition prevention, promotion of changes in behaviour that impacts food use and interventions for food and nutrition security could improve nutrition more sustainably.

Concrete actions could include promotion of traditional African foods, food systems and farming models, microcredit and social protection programmes and local strategies to cope with volatile food markets and climate change, they suggested.

To increase African input into nutrition research for the region, they called on the continent’s governments to give the topic a higher priority, develop country-specific research agendas and international funding and support local researchers with theme-specific training. They also urged funding agencies to better include local people’s priorities in their plans.

They reached their conclusions through three regional workshops in Africa that brought together nearly 120 researchers and policymakers from 40 African countries, as well as follow-on consultations with other stakeholders such as NGOs, government officials, UN agencies, SMEs and industry representatives.

Recommendations were followed up with a proposed research and funding roadmap for better nutrition action, which was shared with the workshop participants and around 60 non-African stakeholders from academia, donors, the International Union of Nutrition Societies and specialist projects for sub-Saharan nutrition.

Increased capacity

In addition to the workshops and consultations, SUNRAY strengthened African research capacity by creating:

  • a course on evidence-based nutrition held in 2013;
  • a public database of African nutrition researchers, now hosted by the Federation of African Nutrition Societies;
  • long-term links between SUNRAY partners and other nutrition researcher groups.

“SUNRAY helped empower African researchers to develop an African response to nutrition challenges,” says Kolsteren. “It could also help them develop strategies to mitigate nutrition impacts of environmental challenges.”

The project has also helped promote greater focus on evidence-based nutrition policy and build up a network of African researchers, with follow-on developments such as:

  • a cell for evidence-led information on nutrition and nutrition policy at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute;
  • an evidence-based policy unit set up by the Democratic Republic of Congo with a Congolese university, financed in part by the EU;
  • the creation of tools to improve the reporting and quality of nutrition research.

Kolsteren argues for continued support for research for Africa by Africans.

“There is a lot of potential but we are not seeing it,” he says, adding that SUNRAY’s collaborative approach was very productive. “It generated more creative thinking, a broader view and was more focused than a top-down approach.”

Project details

  • Project acronym: SUNRAY
  • Participants: Belgium (Coordinator), Sweden, The Netherlands, South Africa, Tanzania, Benin, France, Uganda, Spain, United Kingdom
  • Project N°: 266080
  • Total costs: € 1 088 201
  • EU contribution: € 968 463
  • Duration: January 2011 to December 2012

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