Building the evidence base on the agricultural nutrition nexus: Cameroon

People are at the centre of development and more so if development is to be sustainable. According to the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals, individual wellbeing is essential to sustaining the inter-generational gains in health, productivity and social engagement that underpin the sustainable development agenda.

It is now generally accepted that malnutrition is a major challenge to development. A lot of emphasis has been placed on its eradication; it was one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and has been given priority among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Food and nutrition security (FNS) is currently high on the policy agenda of most African countries including Cameroon.  

To achieve desired FNS outcomes a number of pathways have been identified including policy harmonisation, political will, multidisciplinary research, technological and social innovation, multi-sectorial cooperation and collaboration, capacity building and development, gender equality, women’s empowerment and local/national ownership. However, within a given context, a combination of various pathways including national, regional, and international options will yield tangible results. Multiple disciplines and stakeholders drawn from the public and private sectors, civil society organisations and the wider society must be engaged. It is against this backdrop that CTA has prioritised strengthening of the linkages between nutrition and agriculture as one of the key areas for improving FNS in the ACP region.

The goal of this study was to generate context-specific knowledge for informing policy processes and the development of strategies to support the attainment of FNS goals in Cameroon.

The objectives of the study were:

 To describe the current status of agriculture and the food and nutrition situation in Cameroon.

 To investigate the roles and interactions of the various stakeholders in ensuring FNS in Cameroon.

 To analyse the impact of related policies and programs/interventions linked to addressing the food and nutrition situation in Cameroon.

 To propose strategies for strengthening the agriculture and nutrition nexus in Cameroon, using the lessons learned.

The methodology consisted of: a desktop study and interviews with key stakeholders, followed by a stakeholder analysis. In addition, two national stakeholder consultation workshops were organised for enriching the data collected from the desktop study and interviews.

Results from the study reveal that:

 Only 20% of the country’s arable land is currently cultivated. Agricultural productivity between the different production zones is highly variable. Food availability and accessibility has increased between 2005 and 2013, however, food security is still a major challenge. At least 30% of Cameroonian households (both urban and rural) remain vulnerable and nearly 10% of rural households are food insecure.

 There are very wide variations in nutritional status between regions; the most affected are the Far North, North, Adamaoua and East regions. Children under 5 years old and women of childbearing age are the most impacted. Stunting in children under 5 years old remains alarmingly high (above 30%); having increased from 24.4% in 1991 to 32.5% in 2011 and 69% of them are deficient in zinc, 28% in vitamin B12 and 35% in vitamin A. 76% women of reproductive age are deficient in zinc, 28% in vitamin B12 and 21% are deficient in vitamin A.

 The level of poverty has remained constant at about 40% from 2001 to 2007. Life expectancy is low (55.1 years), under-five mortality is very high (144/1,000 live births); less than half of the national population (49.7%) has access to improved drinking water or sanitation facilities (44.7%); only 27.9% of the population aged above 25 years have at least some secondary education; and girls make up less than 50% of the secondary school enrolment.

 An institutional framework exists namely an inter-ministerial commission on food security and a national multi-stakeholder Scaling up Nutrition platform exists and policy instruments have been established. However, implementation has not been satisfactory mainly due to inadequacy of human and financial resources. Up-to-date data on nutrition is very scarce; there are very few trained nutrition specialists in the country.

 Several stakeholders (about 80 or more) representing government ministries, research and training, UN organisations, non-governmental organisations (international and national), food processors, mass media, donors, consumer syndicates, famers and women’s organisations are involved in implementing programmes that address the Agriculture–Nutrition nexus, but many operate in isolation. Government ministries work collaboratively and also with international organisations and donors but their relationship with civic society organisations is not well defined. NGOs also work collaboratively but there are no specific guidelines to foster collaboration to avoid duplication or conflicts. Active participation and collaboration among stakeholders is crucial for addressing the FNS challenge. Several high-influence-high-important stakeholders exist in Cameroon.

 Some nutrition-specific interventions; including combating iodine and vitamin A deficiencies have been implemented with positive impact in various regions of the country.

These findings suggest that, there is need to strengthen the agriculture and nutrition nexus; foster greater collaboration among the key actors; increase commitment especially from the government — to improving support services (health, water, education, etc.) and to creating a more enabling environment.

Some actions/initiatives identified (during the stakeholder workshops) that may contribute to improving the food and nutrition situation in Cameroon are as follows:

 Build on good practices of existing multi-stakeholder cooperation (e.g. inter-ministerial commission for the fight against malnutrition and SUN- Cameroon): carry out stakeholder analyses and clearly define roles for each (place farmers at the centre and include leaders of local communities); allocate resources and facilitate regular engagement. Build on 2014 national nutrition business forum.

 Promote research, education and sensitisation as entry points for strengthening FNS and the Agriculture–Nutrition nexus.

o Research: increase production in the agricultural sector (both crops and animals); assess changes in food value along the processing chain; create data-bases.

o Education (formal and informal): develop and introduce relevant nutrition programs at all levels of learning institutions; provide refresher courses for health/nutrition workers; assign adequately trained nutritionists (health-centres, hospitals, councils, districts, etc.).

o Sensitisation: publish nutrition information on a regular basis in newspapers and make use of other mass media communication tools; schedule public mass gatherings (markets, churches, motor parks, social meetings, etc.).

 Strengthen women’s participation in the nexus: institutionalise a quota system to increase women’s participation in decision-making bodies and processes; change statutory laws to strengthen women's entitlements and access to land, capacity building, and loans and educate girls at secondary level and above.

 Improve the government’s commitment to the Agriculture–Nutrition nexus: identify agriculture and nutrition champions or goodwill ambassadors for lobbying, encourage the creation of, and support, food and nutrition advocacy groups.