Posts on Jan 1970

New UN Report Reveals that Hunger in Africa Continues to Rise 20 June 2019, Addis Ababa – Hunger in Africa continues to rise after many years of decline, threatening the continent’s hunger eradication efforts to meet the Malabo Goals 2025 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2). New data presented in the joint UN report, the Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, released today, indicates that 237 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from chronic undernutrition, derailing the gains made in the past years.

The joint report by the Regional Office for Africa of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) was launched today in Addis Ababa at an event presided by FAO’s Deputy Director-General Climate and Natural Resources, Maria Helena Semedo.

It shows that more people continue to suffer from undernourishment in Africa than in any other region – evidence suggests that in 2017, 20 percent of the African population was undernourished.

“The worsening trend in Africa is due to difficult global economic and worsening environmental conditions and, in many countries, conflict and climate variability and extremes, sometimes combined. Economic growth slowed in 2016 due to weak commodity prices, in particular for oil and minerals. Food insecurity has worsened in countries affected by conflict, often exacerbated by drought or floods. For example, in Southern and Eastern Africa, many countries suffered from drought,” FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, Abebe Haile-Gabriel, and ECA Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, said in their joint foreword of the report.

Of the 257 million hungry people in Africa, 237 million are in sub-Saharan Africa and 20 million in Northern Africa. The annual UN report indicates that compared to 2015, there were an additional 34.5 million more undernourished people in Africa, of which 32.6 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 1.9 million in Northern Africa. Nearly half of the increase is due to the rise in the number of undernourished people in Western Africa, while another third is from Eastern Africa.

At the regional level, the prevalence of stunting in children under five is falling, but only few countries are on track to meet the global nutrition target for stunting. The number of overweight children under five continues to rise and is particularly high in Northern and Southern Africa. According to the regional report, progress towards meeting the World Health Organization’s global nutrition targets is slow at the continental level.

In many countries, notably in Eastern and Southern Africa, adverse climatic conditions due to El Niño led to a decline in agricultural production and soaring staple food prices. The economic and climatic situation has improved in 2017, but some countries continue to be affected by drought or poor rainfall.

Greater efforts and collaboration needed to achieve SDG 2

The report reveals that more efforts are needed to achieve SDG2 and the global nutrition targets amidst the important challenges faced by the continent, such as tackling youth employment and climate change. Agriculture and the rural sector must play a key role in creating decent jobs for the 10 to 12 million youths that join the labour market each year. Another present and growing threat to food security and nutrition in Africa, particularly to countries relying heavily on agriculture, is climate change. The effects of climate change, reduced precipitation and higher temperatures negatively influence the yields of staple food crops.

At the same time, there are significant opportunities for agriculture in developing intra-African trade, harnessing remittances for development, and investing in youth. Remittances from international and internal migration play an important role in reducing poverty and hunger as well as stimulating productive investments. International remittances amount to nearly $70 billion, about three percent of Africa’s GDP, and present an opportunity for national development that governments should work on to strengthen.

The signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement provides an opportunity to accelerate growth and sustainable development by increasing trade, including trade in agricultural products. Although agricultural intra-African exports rose from $2 billion in 2000 to $13.7 billion in 2013, they remain relatively modest and often informal. The report highlights that opening trade of food also carries risks to consumer and producer welfare, and governments should avoid using trade policy for multiple objectives but rather combine trade reform with additional instruments, such as safety nets and risk-mitigating programmes, to achieve food security and nutrition goals.

Call for greater action to address the threat from climate variability and extremes

This year’s Regional Overview, entitled, “Addressing the Threat from Climate Variability and Extremes for Food Security and Nutrition,” illustrates that climate variability and extremes, in part due to climate change, are important factors underlying the recent rise in food insecurity and severe food crises on the continent.

Many countries in Africa are at great risk to climate-related disasters and suffer from them frequently. Over the last ten years, climate-related disasters affected on average 16 million people and caused annually $0.67 billion in damages across the continent. Although not all of these shorter-term climate variations may be attributable to climate change, the evidence presented shows that more numerous and more frequent occurrences of climate extremes and a rise in climate variability are threatening to erode gains made towards ending hunger and malnutrition.

FAO and ECA stressed, “Greater urgency in building resilience of households, communities and countries to climate variability and extremes is needed. We need to face myriad of challenges to building institutional capacity in designing, coordinating and scaling up actions for risk monitoring and early warning systems, emergency preparedness and response, vulnerability reduction measures, shock-responsive social protection, and planning and implementing resilience-building measures. Strategies towards climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction must be aligned as well as coordinated with interventions in nutrition and food systems across sectors.”

In terms of developing climate adaptation strategies and implementation, the report highlights the need for greater efforts in data collection, monitoring and implementation of climate smart agriculture practices. Continued efforts through partnerships, blending climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and long-term financing can bridge humanitarian and development approaches.

Key facts and figures

-Number of hungry people in Africa: 257 million or 1 in every 5 people
-Children under five affected by stunting (low height-for-age): 59 million (30.3 percent)
-Children under five affected by wasting (low weight-for-height): 13.8 million (7.1 percent)
-Children under five who are overweight (high weight-for-height): 9.7 million (5 percent)
-Percentage of women of reproductive age affected by anaemia: 38 percent
-Percentage of infants aged below 6 months who were exclusively breastfed: 43.5 percent
-Percentage of adults who are obese: 11.8 percent

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The App that’s Improving Antenatal Care in Cameroon and Beyond

Using mobile technology, the GiftedMom platform offers vital health advice and emergency transport to pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa

Over lunch at a recent workshop, Agbor Ashu, the co-founder and medical director of social enterprise GiftedMom, showed me a small icon of a pregnant woman on his smartphone: “That’s the app,” he says. “You just click here and land on this homepage where you have multiple options: if you’re a mother-to-be, you can get advice based on your pregnancy stage; if you have a new-born baby, you can read about special care. You can also reach out to our medical team on duty via the chat and get reminders about your doctor’s appointment.” Noting the perplexed look on my face, he adds: “You’d be surprised how many women forget their doctor’s appointments – they have a thousand other preoccupations on their minds.”

Ashu believes simple solutions can be the most effective ones when it comes to improving people’s lives. After finishing medical school in Yaoundé, Cameroon, he entered government, enticed by the promise of stable employment. For a young doctor who believed in large-scale solutions for the healthcare sector, he soon realised it wasn’t enough for him. “Sitting at the hospital every day waiting for people to get sick would have limited the impact I wanted to create in society,” says Ashu.

In early 2015, Ashu started sharing his vision for improving access to healthcare with more senior colleagues. The encouragement he received from them was all he needed to kickstart things.

In October of the same year, having been introduced to Alain Nteff, who would later become GiftedMom’s co-founder, Ashu started engaging with different partners, including the Ministry of Public Health. With a stipend of about $80 per month, he was relying on friends to make ends meet. Many of his peers and relatives felt his ambitions were short-term and underdeveloped: “My parents needed me to be secure. I was advised to return to … continue working in the government, but deep within me, I knew what I had to do and resisted going back.”

Together with Nteff, Ashu set up GiftedMom, which aims to improve maternal health using mobile technologies. The platform helps pregnant women in underserved areas – initially in Cameroon, and now across Africa – have safe pregnancies and combats the lack of access and knowledge that has led to high mother and infant deaths in the country.

Capitalising on the high and growing number of mobile devices in sub-Saharan Africa, GiftedMom uses a customised SMS notification and voice education platform that expecting and new mothers can register for to receive advice about their health, including why it’s imperative to have regular check-ups. “There is a one-off subscription fee of less than $1. After that, customers can receive messages free of charge, including alerts for when vaccinations for newborns are due,” says Ashu.

The GiftedMom smartphone app was designed for both offline and online data collection, and can be used by community workers and medical personnel to register pregnant women and new mothers. Women can register for the service by using a toll-free code. In order to reach the estimated 35% of Cameroonian women who are illiterate, the team also developed voice technology in four widely spoken traditional languages.

An additional facet of GiftedMom’s services is its transport system. A woman with an emergency can alert the GPS Tricycle Transport, which will pick her up and take her to a health centre for treatment. The app provides mapping and location details, even for rural areas, and uses cell-tower triangulation technology to function without internet access. The tricycles are equipped with beds and another seat for health personnel.

There is huge scope for Ashu and his team to expand their services across the continent, as sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest growing mobile market today. There were 420m unique mobile subscribers in the region in late 2016, equivalent to a 43% penetration rate, with more than half a billion subscribers predicted by 2020. Mobile has emerged as the continent’s platform of choice for creating, distributing and consuming innovative digital solutions and services.

The mobile industry also plays an increasingly vital role in the social and economic development of the region: mobile connectivity has become the driving force for greater inclusion, while the mobile ecosystem, including network operators and device vendors, contributes significantly to economic growth and jobs. Many innovators and tech entrepreneurs like Ashu and Nteff are using the expansion of advanced mobile infrastructure in Africa and the growing adoption of smart devices to deliver solutions that directly respond to people’s primary needs. Across the region, mobile tech is enabling life-enhancing services that directly support the sustainable development goals (SDGs), complementing the efforts of governments and their development partners.

To date, GiftedMom has reached 120,000 pregnant women and mothers in rural and urban communities in Cameroon. This has increased the rate of antenatal care by an average of 80% and the rate of vaccination by 90%. And the company is not lacking ambition. In July, GiftedMom joined UNDP’s Business Call to Action with a pledge to expand its operations in three new African countries – Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Kenya.

Public health concerns, coupled with mobile penetration, represent a unique opportunity for inclusive businesses. With the vision of reaching 5 million users in the next three years across Africa, GiftedMom is unlocking a new market of consumers and I am convinced that they will be a major contributor to the realisation of the SDGs.

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Opinion – How Social Entrepreneurs are using Tech-based Solutions to Tackle Global Poverty

Social entrepreneur Jack Sim argues that digital technology can be used to create opportunities for the world’s poorest populations, but a joined-up approach from stakeholders is needed.

The challenge of ending poverty for the world’s 3.7 billion poor is larger than any one entity can solve. Crucially, this task also presents a market opportunity so large that there is more than enough work for all active stakeholders to engage in. More than ever before, digital technology is making these opportunities easier to harness.

With technology now increasingly accessible – through cheap smartphones, e-payment and e-commerce systems – farmers can be connected directly to buyers, bypassing the need for a middleman, and thus reducing transaction costs and increasing independence.

These changes can have significant knock-on effects in other parts of their lives: with better prices, they can buy improved seeds to grow superior crops, which fetch higher prices. With extra income, farmers can send their kids to school or study online through free massive open online courses (Moocs). They can access “e-health” services, where doctors in cities diagnose patients in remote villages through video calls, and medications are dispensed at local village pharmacies. They can buy solar panels to pump water from boreholes, which can be filtered using affordable water tech, creating business opportunities to sell clean drinking water.

As more such trades are operated by the villagers themselves, velocity of money increases and local GDP rises, thus creating jobs and improving access to more quality of life products such as clothing, hairdressing and beauty products, handicrafts, micro-insurance, toilets and more.

As social entrepreneurs, we can help facilitate this growth. But first, we must remind ourselves that we do not own the poor. They are not the tools for our survival, or our road to glory. If we truly want to support them to rise from poverty, we should muster the combined power of all stakeholders to help them. We also need to persuade foreign aid and donors to fund a whole ecosystem approach instead of working in silos or competing wastefully.

We can borrow the Nine Basic Principles of Biomimicry by Janine Benyus when building our tech-driven ecosystems tailored to the low-income marketplace.

Here is my translation of the principles into practical actions:

1. Nature runs on sunlight
Solar energy tech can be scaled up to all off-grid communities. With energy, we can deliver water pumps, drip irrigation, wifi access, lighting, refrigeration, education, e-health, e-commerce, e-payment and more.

2. Nature uses only the energy it needs
Scale up our impact without scaling up our overheads. Don’t duplicate work.

3. Nature fits form to function
Blockchain has the potential to unblock any bureaucracy that hinders function.

4. Nature recycles everything
Recycle all proven ideas and don’t waste the opportunity to copy each other.

5. Nature rewards cooperation
Collaboration makes mission delivery cheaper, faster, better and easier. Those outside the collaborative ecosystem may become inefficient by comparison and become motivated to join the ecosystem.

6. Nature banks on diversity
We should bank on the diversity of our combined talents.

7. Nature demands local expertise
Decentralise and democratise distribution to local communities without having hierarchical cost structures.

8. Nature curbs excesses from within
Don’t spend excessively large amounts of time fundraising. Focus on leveraging peers to help you deliver impact wider and faster, so as to grow without overheads.

9. Nature taps the power of limits
Do only what you are good at and let the others do the rest in collaboration with you.

We know that there are already more than 4,000 proven social entrepreneurial business solutions that we can replicate. Technologies available span sectors such as agritech, energy, water, sanitation, e-payment, e-commerce, logitech, edutech, housing, e-health, fintech and smart city public policy, to name a few. We know that businesses want to open up this very exciting “base-of the-pyramid” (BoP) marketplace. We know that we do not have the trillions of dollars needed to deliver the 17 sustainable development goals. But if we can convert a significant portion into social business investments, and combine this with proven business models, we can solve the problem at exponential scale and speed, and at a much lower cost than traditional methods.

On my part, I’m building a 65,000 sq ft BoP design centre in Singapore. We want this to become a world trade centre for the poor and invite all interested parties to co-create and co-design the working mechanism so that it can become a replicable, open-source model. The idea is that anyone could start a similar centre around the world, allowing more social businesses to be connected with each other across borders as we strive to achieve a common goal: to improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.

This is our business call to action.

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