An analysis by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlights that majority of Batswana above the international poverty line of $1.90 purchasing power parity (PPP) per person per day cannot afford a healthy or nutritious diet. The analysis by FAO settles the fact that the problem of poor nutrition in Botswana is essentially on account of the unaffordability of good diets, and not on account of lack of information on nutrition.
The 2020 State of Food Security and nutrition in the World states that 64.5 percent of Batswana cannot afford a healthy diet. Furthermore the report highlights that 32.8 percent of household income is channelled towards food expenditure. And while Covid-19 and Covid-20 may be far from over, it is increasingly becoming clearer that the pandemic is expected to pose nutritional risks to Botswana in the short and long term. Prior to the pandemic, Botswana was already struggling with a double burden of malnutrition extremes. Various global fora such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and SADC Secretariat’s Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (RVAA) Programme have it on good record that the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) in Botswana is pegged at 22.5%.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, a healthy diet “helps to protect against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as non-communicable diseases (NCDs)”. It also provides the body with essential nutrition such as fluids, macronutrients, micronutrients, and adequate calories and helps to improve overall health.
The findings by FAO seem to concur with the message that came out of a two day virtual seminar held last week on how to promote and protect good nutrition in crisis situations. Addressing the seminar, Grain and cereal researcher, Lakayana Sepapi sharply outlined that malnutrition will surge in Botswana mainly as a result of “declines in household incomes and changes in the availability and affordability of nutritious foods.”
Studies conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) highlight that that nutrient-rich non-staple foods are ten times more expensive than staple foods in most poor countries. “With reduced incomes necessitated by Covid-19 and Covid-20, most households will transition to buying the cheapest calories to eat—the aim being to maintain quantity and not quality. As a result, anaemia, stunting, wasting and other nutritional deficiencies are highly likely to surge,” says Sepapi.
According to FAO a nutrient-adequate diet (a balanced diet which contributes to achieve or maintain a good state of health) costs P23.31 a day which is more than the international poverty line currently set at P20.89 a day. “This means a sizeable number of Batswana cannot afford the nutrition-adequate diet even if the entire income is spent on food. The Covid-19 pandemic is a sobering reminder to Botswana that during a crisis the country faces multi-pronged dilemmas — containing the rising infections while being home to over 340 000 of undernourished people,” says Sepapi.
In the 2020 Global Hunger Index (GHI), Botswana ranks 80th out of the 107 qualifying countries. Given the risk of a pandemic-induced slide back, experts say there are ways Botswana can take to safeguard its demographic dividend. “There is need to monitor food insecurity closely in the coming months,” says Sepapi.
According to Our World in Data, the daily per capita caloric supply in Botswana has been steadily increasing from a low of 1, 871 in 1974 to 2, 326 kilocalories per person per day in 2013. Although the prevalence of under-nutrition measures progress towards Sustainable Development Goal Target 2.1 which aims to end hunger and ensure access by all people, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round by 2030, the 2020 Global Nutrition Report Action on equity to end malnutrition highlights that Botswana will not meet the 2025 global nutritional target of achieving “a 40% reduction in the number of children under-5 who are stunted”, adding that Botswana will also not be able to reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5% by 2025.