Africa Needs To Explore Maize Alternatives For Sustainable Food Security

Jan 23, 2024

As a top sustainability advocate, I find the recent study led by Dr. Stewart Jennings from the University of Leeds and co-authored by Prof Jennie Macdiarmid from the University of Aberdeen to be a crucial call to action. This study, titled “Stakeholder-driven transformative adaptation is needed for climate-smart nutrition security in Sub-Saharan Africa,” highlights a pressing issue: the need for agricultural diversification in Africa to address both nutritional needs and climate change challenges. 

The over-reliance on maize in African agriculture is a ticking time bomb, both nutritionally and environmentally. Maize, while a staple food, does not meet the complete nutritional needs of the population. Its cultivation is increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as erratic rainfall patterns and temperature fluctuations. This situation could lead to heightened food and nutrition insecurity across the region. 

The study rightly urges a shift towards more micronutrient-rich foods, advocating for the inclusion of fruits, vegetables, and alternative crops like cassava, millet, and sorghum. These crops are not only more resilient to climate change but also provide a richer array of nutrients. This shift is crucial in addressing the hidden hunger – micronutrient deficiencies – that affects millions in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Related article: Cultivating sustainable agriculture; Harvesting, food security,nurturing soil health and tackling emissions

The researchers’ emphasis on diversifying into soybean production and increasing the production and consumption of animal-based products is a strategy that could significantly enhance diets. Soybeans, for instance, are not only a rich source of protein but also adapt better to various climate conditions compared to maize. They can play a vital role in sustainable farming systems, contributing to soil health through nitrogen fixation. 

The study’s call for integrated policies across government departments is particularly noteworthy. Addressing the intertwined challenges of nutrition security and climate change requires a multi-sectoral approach. Agricultural policies should not only focus on maximizing calorie production but also on improving the nutritional quality of food produced and consumed. This involves collaboration between agricultural, health, and environmental sectors to develop and implement policies that promote diverse, nutritious, and environmentally sustainable food systems. 

Read also: How to measure and report on the sustainability performance of an agricultural business

Agriculture in Africa must evolve from traditional practices to a more deliberate approach that incorporates nutritional needs and climate resilience. This requires significant investment in research and development to identify and promote climate-resilient and nutritionally rich crop varieties. It also necessitates training and supporting farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices and diversify their crop portfolios. 

It is also vital to raise awareness among consumers about the nutritional benefits of a diverse diet. Public health campaigns and educational programs can play a significant role in changing dietary habits, encouraging the consumption of a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and animal-based products. 

This study underscores the need for stakeholder-driven transformative adaptation. This means engaging farmers, communities, policymakers, scientists, and the private sector in a collaborative effort to redesign the agricultural landscape of Africa. By working together, these stakeholders can develop and implement strategies that ensure food and nutrition security in a changing climate. 

The findings and recommendations of this study present a clear path forward. By diversifying crop production, enhancing diets with nutrient-rich foods, and adopting integrated, stakeholder-driven approaches, we can address the dual challenges of climate change and nutrition insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is imperative that we act swiftly and decisively to transform our agricultural systems for the health of our people and our planet.  

First published on Africa Sustainability Matters


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