We now know that it is not only Africa that has nutritional challenges. Virtually all people are at risk. Currently Rural Outreach Africa, our organization, is working with African Agricultural Technology Foundation to get water efficient maize to as many as the 30,000 smallholder farmers ROP Africa works with in Western Kenya. The crop is doing very well and farmers are very excited about it.

Images from the long rains season (2015) in Western Kenya showing farmers, ROP staff and AATF staff
[Source: Rural Outreach Program (ROP) Africa, 2015]


In this same issue is a report by our field coordinator and Edina Makunda our star female farmer from Western Kenya on their recent visit to South Africa to observe how biotechnology is helping them. All I can say is that we cannot just go on begging for food-.”very indignifying”, my mother used to say.

Sub-Saharan Africa may carry most of the emaciated people due to undernourishment, but the industrialized world has to carry the brunt of obesity and overweight. For a long time now we have talked of the double burden of malnutrition, facing the developing world. But now it is a true reality.

The same sub-Saharan Africa that is still dogged by undernourishment is also experiencing a big surge in overweight and obesity especially in young children and women whose lives are becoming increasingly sedentary, and whose diets and those of their families are now monotonously rich in carbohydrates. In most cases, it is the women who are in charge of family meals. So, do we pass on the right information in a timely fashion? What am I saying here? No one can tackle this issue alone. We need to collaborate. I can see one of the G7 2015 meeting resolutions does mention food and nutrition security as a real issue to tackle. We will now wait to see how much money goes towards fighting this preventable scourge. I can see many knowledgeable consumers have made the web their source of information. But then whose responsibility is it to ensure that what people source on the web is credible and science based?

I took time to attend this year’s FANUS (Federation of African Nutrition Societies) Congress which was held in Arusha Tanzania from May 24-29, 2015. One thing that was encouraging was the high attendance by young people. I took with me young Consolata Musita, a 2012 First Class student of Kenyatta University. Consolata joined my office as an intern about 3 months ago and is helping with the journal as she awaits an opportunity to go and undertake Graduate studies in Nutrition. I will be encouraging her to study nutrition but also minor in food science and business. Of course at the end of the day, it will be her choice.

There was an effort to bring in aspects of food, and agriculture. Breastfeeding received a big share of the time and rightfully so, as it is the foundation of our lifecycle progress. But then, most research findings reported an age old practice that seems threatened and in the process threatens both child and maternal health. The same issues keep coming up, that one of the reasons our African children do not thrive well is repeated illness and inadequate nutrient intake. Even before the babies get off the mother’s sterile milk they immediately get exposed to often contaminated complementary foods. This clearly points to the need to have people who have a bit of knowledge about the right foods to feed a weaning child and what those foods contain and how they should be handled and given. Likewise, one cannot be just a food scientist without understanding what the foods contain. There is so much interest in nutrition yet we lack enough professionals to meet the demand.

The science of nutrition itself too needs to be upgraded for sure. There is information in the internet which is accessed by unassuming clients who are not able to decipher the authenticity of this material. Friends and acquaintances who are aware of my qualification in this field even sound more expert than myself. So, one hears of juicing of all types of fruits and vegetables, all of them raw without realizing that not everything can and should be eaten raw. Then when people are told Vitamin E is good, they decide to take even more of it without realizing the consequences. The city has shops and pharmacies with all kinds of supplements of different strengths. One hopes that one is able to get some advice on purchasing these supplements; chances are that people actually google this information. But then one may not accurately get the exact information to help in safe use. Then according to the Kenyan Law, certain Kenyan foods are fortified. How knowledgeable are we about all these things?

I recall when I was starting off in my career I ran a column in the local print media. I would do radio and television programs, to discuss nutrition in very simple terms: what to eat more of, what to go easy on and what to avoid altogether.

Everybody these days is an expert over his /her own diet. Of course one can just google when in doubt. It bothers me when I think of all the years I have spent in school, studying this subject upto PhD level. Natural foods which we have always known to be healthy are now called “super foods”. African leafy vegetables, tiny cereals such as teff and millets, wild rice, various types of legumes and even insects such as locusts are now referred to as super foods because of their perceived and /or proven health benefits. Then we have these forgotten and neglected African foods, being referred to sometimes as orphan crops. Seriously I am not so keen on this term “orphan”. At this rate it seems like we could be using my beloved grandmother to teach about healthy eating. Well, she has gone to her maker already, but she lived into her 90’s and apart from losing some of her teeth and part of her eyesight, she did not have much else wrong with her. I just keep hoping that she passed on some of the same genes to me. But, see what I eat? I will not even go that way. If you feel confused sometimes, you are not alone. At the end of the day, however, only YOU can control what you consume and hopefully it is nutritious, safe and of course tasty. But, for the greater benefit of the consumers, all stakeholders need to collaborate whether in research, value addition and marketing and in passing the right information to consumers. Let us not add to the confusion.


Ruth Oniang’o