Guest Editorial:

Dr. John Lupien
Dr. John Lupien

Political will can improve food and nutrition in Africa

In the current sea of problems including Covid-19, economic problems in many countries and regions, the scourge of lack of access of adequate supplies of affordable food continues to cause untold, and preventable, problems. Undernutrition in children causes poor growth, lack of enough energy to perform to the best of one’s abilities in school or in daily life, disease linked to not enough food and necessary micro-nutrients, and in adults an inability to work efficiently and to many disease problems and early death.

Over the years many international conferences have discussed these problems and adopted strong declarations and plans of action to remedy the lack of adequate access to food. The 1992 International Conference on Nutrition, hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, unanimously adopted such a declaration and plan of action and left it to Member Countries to implement the recommendations. Some countries did this enthusiastically, other did very little. China, which had a large number of affected people took action and today there is little undernutrition in that country. Other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America did less, and as a consequence there are still about one billion people worldwide without adequate access to food, even though world food supplies in total are adequate to feed all.

What does this mean for Africa? Clearly there is a need to take country and regional action to promote better food supplies and access to them all. Production, import, export and proper preservation of foods are needed, and closer attention to food quality, safety and nutritional needs are basics that need strengthening in most countries of Africa. Improvements in agriculture, fisheries and food systems are needed. As time is passing more people in Africa are moving to urban settings, and better distribution systems are essential to meeting the food needs of these populations.

Improved agricultural systems should be developed and used to meet basic food needs, using improved varieties of plants and animals foods for better crop yields to provide foods that can meet macro and micro-nutrient needs. Africa does not lack good soils and water supplies, but farmers need critical information to enable them to improve production. Research is needed into basic systems of agriculture, improved crop yields, control of plant pests and harmful contaminant, chemical or microbiological, proper control and use of new and better varieties produced by classic or genetic modification. Certainly application of such research is also a priority and governments must be ready to take effective action in this food area.

As a person who spent some years in working with a number of African countries to improve systems to control food quality, safety, consumer protection and nutrition it is clear to me that much more needs to be done in all of the areas mentioned above. It is critical for all to take action now to meet the basic needs of those who lack access to adequate amounts of affordable and good quality and safe foods. Journals such as AJFAND are a critical part of the steps needed, hopefully the goals set by many different national and international efforts will be met in the coming years.

Taking appropriate and science based action requires political will and support at all levels, particularly from national leaders and the scientific community. Kenya and Africa are fortunate to have Professor Ruth Oniang’o, former Member of Parliament in Kenya and editor of AJFAND as one such leader. Hopefully country leaders in all countries of Africa will also have the will to take action to eliminate chronic hunger and malnutrition as a crucial step in overall development efforts so needed in all countries.

John R. Lupien
Former Director, Food and Nutrition Division
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Rome, Italy
Email: john@jrlupien.net


Current Academic Appointments:
1998 to present - Adjunct Professor of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts, USA.
2007 to present - Guest Professor, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China.
1999 to 2010 - Adjunct Associate Professor in the Nutrition Department, College of Health and Human Development, Pennsylvania State University, USA.

Food and Nutrition Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO):
1990 to 1999 - Director of the FAO Food and Nutrition Division
1986 to 1990 - Chief, Food Quality and Standards Service within the FAO Food and Nutrition Division, and Secretary, FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission
1970 to 1980 - FAO Nutrition Officer (1970-71) and Senior Nutrition Officer (1973-80) in Rome and as an FAO Project Manager in Zambia (1971-73)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
1980 to 1986 - Director, International Affairs Staff, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC
1960 to 1970 - FDA investigator in San Francisco, California (1960-64); Brownsville, Texas (1964-65); and as an FDA Compliance Officer in Washington, DC (1966-70)

He carried out his undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass., USA, and holds an honoris causa doctoral degree in nutrition from Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand and an honoris causa masters degree in Public Health from the University of Las Palmas, Spain. He has worked in nutrition, food quality and food safety since 1960.

In his FDA and FAO work, he was involved in extensive food and nutrition-related policy formulation work. He also carried out in-depth nutrition, food quality and food safety surveys and prepared and implemented nutrition-related projects in about 50 countries. As Director of the FAO Food and Nutrition Division, he supervised 70 professionals and support staff, oversaw the technical organization of the December 1992 Rome Joint FAO/WHO International Conference on Nutrition, and coordinated FAO's overall nutrition programme. He has extensive experience in national and international food standards setting and implementation work, and has written and spoken extensively on these topics.

He chaired the Scientific Advisory Committee of the European Food Information Council from 2000-2008, represents the International Union of Food Science and Technology in international meetings on food and agriculture, and has served on the Monash University, Melbourne, Australia advisory board on food quality, safety and nutrition. He is a fellow of the International Academy of Food Science and Technology.