Saturday, May 30, 2020

Child malnutrition rates among Botswana’s poor likely to spike

Whilst the Food and Agricultural Organisation assessment report shows that Botswana is currently battling multiple forms of malnutrition, a new multi-sectoral report shows that malnutrition in the country will get worse as the balance between the global demand and supply of food becomes tighter because of the coronavirus.The fresh report prepared by Grain and cereal researcher, Lakayana Sepapi, states that there is need for the government to take urgent coordinated action to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from turning into a food and humanitarian crisis in Botswana.

Well before the arrival of the coronavirus, Botswana was already recording increasing cases of malnutrition which were attributed to shortage of food commodities, climate change and the increase in prices of cereals. “Export restrictions and tariffs which have been imposed by some countries could result in shortages,” states part of the multi-sectoral report, adding that “coronavirus will result in insufficient supply of food required by beneficiaries in Botswana”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines malnutrition as deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. The term malnutrition covers 2 broad groups of conditions. One is ‘under-nutrition’—which includes stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height), underweight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals). The other is overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer). In terms of malnutrition, Botswana is currently categorised under the ‘burdened’ category – which is the worst category. A country is considered ‘burdened’ by a malnutrition indicator depending on whether the national prevalence was greater than a certain cut-off.

According to Sepapi, latest annual assessments of regional agriculture forecast alarming trends in southern Africa mainly due to the novel virus which has brought the world to a near standstill. Sepapi also indicated that the number of destitutes is likely to increase exponentially in the short term.Household surveys conducted over the past five years indicate that the rate of stunting among under-five year-olds is twice as high among children in the poorest households than those in the richest. 

Due to economic hardships, many families in Botswana cannot afford or access enough nutritious foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and milk, while foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt are cheaper and more readily available, leading to a rapid rise in the number of children and adults who are overweight and obese, in Botswana.Meanwhile Botswana’s cereal production declined to below-average levels during the 2019/20 season, which runs from October 2019 to April 2020. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that this is expected to take a toll on cereal production prospects.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.