Bending the Curve Consortium (BCC)
Africa’s Bending the Curve Consortium (BCC) includes a coalition of food scientists, nutritionists and public health professionals dedicated to early, preventative action aimed at improving Africa’s long-term nutritional trajectory. Africa’s Bending the Curve Consortium (BCC) complements ongoing efforts by the Modernizing African Food Systems (MAFS) team, both of which look forward to empirically understand and to help mold the African food system transition. The MAFS consortium focuses on the supply side of African food markets, by projecting the likely growth trajectories of African food systems and helping private sector food processors and African educational institutions to anticipate and prepare skilled labor demands required for rapidly urbanizing societies (Figure 1A).
Equally important is the impact of economic transformation on consumers and human health (Figure 1B). As an increasingly urbanized population begins to rely on marketed, processed foods, as they transition to a more sedentary lifestyle and as they lose access to many nutritious indigenous foods, health outcomes typically suffer. Africa’s Bending the Curve Consortium (BCC) focuses on the consumer transition that accompanies food system transformation, helping to anticipate and mold this transition in ways that minimize the public health costs and maximize human productivity gains as African food systems transform.
BCC’s Goal: Enable Africa to avoid the rapid, unhealthy but all-too-common nutrition transition in which successfully developing countries move quickly from large-scale energy deficits to widespread over-consumption, with diets that are too high in energy from fat and processed sugars and too low in vitamins, minerals, and important micro-nutrients. Resulting problems of obesity, heart disease and diabetes impose heavy costs on human health, worker productivity and public health systems. As the world’s poorest and most rural continent, Africa can learn from the mistakes of more rapidly growing first movers in Asia and Latin America about what public health problems to expect. More importantly, Africans can glean insights about concrete steps they can take now that may enable the continent to get out ahead of these problems. Africa’s Bending the Curve Consortium (BCC) aims to undertake strategic action, advocacy and research that will help to bend curve in Africa’s nutrition transition toward the preferred, healthier nutritional trajectory (Figure 2).
High-level executive education for government public health director generals and food industry CEOs is required to raise awareness about the early arrival and unexpected speed of the Nutrition Transition in Africa, the resulting high prospective costs to human productivity and public health systems, as well as the key lessons emerging from elsewhere about successful mitigation and prevention strategies.
5.2 Food science and technology curriculum reform in African universities
In order to train a new generation of FST professionals capable of taking early and pre-emptive action in bending the curve in Africa’s Nutrition Transition, curricular reform must begin now. These efforts will involve curricula that integrate food science and technology, human nutrition and public health as well as educational systems that facilitate internships and applied research programs linking students and faculty to private sector food industry.
5.3 Food industry entrepreneurship
Africa’s rapidly growing demand for processed convenience foods offer significant potential for the promotion of high quality, packaged indigenous foods which cater to local tastes but which most urban food markets fail to deliver under the forces of inertia which, by default, lead to the expansion of low nutritional quality fast foods developed in the West. A pro-active new generation of FST professionals can contribute to the development and marketing of tasty, profitable, inexpensive nutrient-dense packaged foods in Africa, often by building on favored indigenous foods such as pumpkin leaves, cassava leaves, sweet potato leaves and local whole grains. Coupled with agribusiness management and entrepreneurship programs, FST food laboratories, internship programs and competitive grants can translate into food entrepreneurship incubators serving private food industries as well as local consumers.
5.4 Fresh fruit and vegetable wholesale market reforms
Parallel increases in urban demand for fresh fruits and vegetables offer similar prospects for raising agribusiness incomes, lowering consumer costs and improving the nutritional quality of urban diets. Early investments in urban planning, zoning, road quality and urban horticulture market infrastructure and management systems could significantly improve the efficiency of urban fresh fruit and vegetable wholesale markets as well as sanitation and public health. By reducing current high losses, improved horticulture markets offer prospects for raising farm incomes, significantly lowering urban consumer prices for fresh fruit and vegetables, and increasing urban consumption of nutrient-dense horticultural products. A focus on Africa’s rapidly growing secondary cities offer early opportunities for quick wins.
Founding institutional partners:
- Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)
- International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
- Makerere University (MU)
- Michigan State University (MSU)
- University of Pretoria’s Institute for Nutrition, Nutrition and Well-Being (IFNuW)
- Duncan Boughton (MSU)
- Elna Buys (UP IFNuW)
- Gyebi Duodu (UP IFNuW)
- Francis Ejobi (MU)
- Riette de Kock (UP IFNuW)
- Amanda Minnaar (UP IFNuW)
- Hettie Schonfeldt (UP IFNuW)
- David Tschirley (MSU)