First ever village-level mapping of childhood undernutrition in India reveals sharp local disparities

The study is the first to predict and map the burden of childhood undernutrition across all of the nearly 600,000 villages in rural India, and the methods developed to do so could be applied to other health indicators and help advance the field of “precision public health,” in which interventions and policies are tailored to smaller populations that are disproportionally affected by specific health issues, according to the study’s authors.

“By applying state-of-the-art data science techniques to existing public health indicators and census data, we created a framework that we hope can help local and regional decision makers better understand the substantial village disparities in childhood undernutrition,” said S.V. Subramanian, corresponding author and professor of population health and geography at Harvard Chan School. “Mahatma Gandhi once said that India lives in its villages. Now we can bring the power of data science to aid public policy thru precision targeting and help ensure that children in all of India’s villages are given an opportunity to grow healthy and thrive.”

The study was published April 26, 2021, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Childhood undernutrition is a major problem in India; the country accounts for almost one-third of the global prevalence of childhood stunting. Precisely identifying areas with high levels of undernutrition, however, can be difficult because childhood nutrition data—and other key public health data—is typically analyzed at the district level. There are 640 districts in India per the 2011 census, a district can cover hundreds of square miles, and each district has an average rural population of 1.3 million people. Studying childhood nutrition data at this scale can result in oversimplified or misleading analyses that overlook substantial disparities within a district. Moreover, this approach can foster a lack of political accountability for the agencies responsible for crafting and implementing policies and interventions.

To obtain a more granular understanding of childhood undernutrition, the research team focused on India’s 597,121 inhabited census villages. Villages are the smallest unit of governance in India, and the researchers said that mapping and analyzing nutrition data at the village level could provide a more accurate understanding of childhood health and result in more informed and effective local politics in India.

The team combined data from numerous sources including the 2011 census and the 2016 Indian Demographic and Health Survey, which contained anonymized GPS data on approximately 20,000 “clusters,” or villages or groups of villages. The researchers then created a machine-learning prediction model to extrapolate the available data and estimate the prevalence of key indicators of undernutrition, including stunting, underweight, and wasting, for every village in the country.

The findings showed substantial variations in undernutrition across villages. For instance, the average predicted rate of stunting across all villages was 37.9%. In 691 villages, however, the average predicted rate of stunting was under 5%, while it exceeded 70% in 453 villages. In all districts, the authors noted, they found a mix of villages with high and low burdens of undernutrition.

The authors said the village-level model they created could potentially shift the paradigm of policy discussions in India by enabling policy makers and public health officials to better prioritize villages struggling with a high burden of undernutrition. The authors also created a publicly available dashboard that allows users to explore the village maps and associated data in an interactive manner.

“We focused on India, but this approach can be developed and applied to other countries to predict local health, nutrition and population estimates and better understand disparities,” said first author Rockli Kim, assistant professor at Korea University and a visiting scientist at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.

Acute malnutrition threatens half of children under five in Yemen in 2021: UN

Nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021, four United Nations agencies warned on Friday. Of these, 400,000 are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent treatment.

The new figures, from the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Malnutrition report released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, mark an increase in acute malnutrition and severe acute malnutrition of 16 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively, among children under five years from 2020. 

The agencies also warned that these were among the highest levels of severe acute malnutrition recorded in Yemen since the escalation of conflict in 2015.

Malnutrition damages a child’s physical and cognitive development, especially during the first two years of a child’s life. It is largely irreversible, perpetuating illness, poverty and inequality.

Preventing malnutrition and addressing its devastating impact starts with good maternal health, yet around 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding women in Yemen are projected to be acutely malnourished in 2021.

Years of armed conflict and economic decline, the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe funding shortfall for the humanitarian response are pushing exhausted communities to the brink, with rising levels of food insecurity. Many families are having to resort to reducing the quantity or quality of the food they eat, and in some cases, families are forced to do both.

“The increasing number of children going hungry in Yemen should shock us all into action,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “More children will die with every day that passes without action. Humanitarian organizations need urgent predictable resources and unhindered access to communities on the ground to be able to save lives.”

Fighting in Yemen has lead to death, destruction and diseases

“Families in Yemen have been in the grip of conflict for too long, and more recent threats such as COVID-19 have only been adding to their relentless plight,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “Without security and stability across the country, and improved access to farmers so that they are provided with the means to resume growing enough and nutritious food, Yemen’s children and their families will continue to slip deeper into hunger and malnutrition.”

“These numbers are yet another cry for help from Yemen where each malnourished child also means a family struggling to survive” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “The crisis in Yemen is a toxic mix of conflict, economic collapse and a severe shortage of funding to provide the life-saving help that’s desperately needed. But there is a solution to hunger, and that’s food and an end to the violence. If we act now, then there is still time to end the suffering of Yemen’s children.”

Creating a More Nutritious Food System with Biofortification

Courtney Meyer, Katrina Boyd, and Jenny Walton

“We want to lead the way to get more nutritious foods on the table.”

The speaker was Arun Baral, chief financial officer of HarvestPlus. His sentiment was shared by the 60 food industry representatives and business leaders who attended the biofortified foods workshop in New Delhi’s Park Hotel.

Following almost ten years of product development and delivery efforts from the HarvestPlus India program, almost half a million Indian farming households were estimated to be growing, consuming, and benefiting from zinc-biofortified wheat and iron-biofortified pearl millet by the end of 2018. In 2018 alone, about 300,000 farming households have been recorded as having procured seeds of these biofortified crops. There are currently nine varieties of iron pearl millet, five of zinc wheat, and one of both iron-zinc sorghum and zinc rice available. Now that crops have been released, attention is turning to exploring opportunities to create a more nutritious food system.

India loses over US$12 billion in GDP annually to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Biofortification has the potential to become a critical element in the country’s quest for Kuposhan Mukt Bharat (Malnutrition Free India) by 2022; last year the Indian Council for Agricultural Research set minimum levels of iron and zinc for pearl millet varieties—signaling nutrition as a priority for breeders.

But ending hidden hunger and managing a profitable food business can be done simultaneously and sustainably. By addressing the barriers to embedding biofortification into the food system, HarvestPlus aims to increase the access families and communities have to nutritious seeds and foods.

“We will increase the number of farmers in India growing and consuming zinc rice, zinc wheat, and iron pearl millet by creating a market for these foods,” said Wolf Pfeiffer, director of research and development at HarvestPlus.

Following the success of similar food industry workshops, attendees convened with the aim of bringing biofortified food products to more Indian consumers by identifying sustainable routes to market. The goal was to overcome barriers and identify opportunities such as ensuring supply chain integrity and meeting manufacturing standards.

Speakers and attendees spanned the supply chain, from agricultural researchers, seed producers and sellers, farmers, aggregators, millers and food manufacturers, to marketers, consumer researchers, advertisers, communicators, and advocates. Discussions were designed to determine how to best address potential barriers and identify motivating factors that will engage and intrigue consumers and businesses. Participants committed to finding solutions and partners to address bottlenecks in the supply chain.

“As farmers we are proud to be actively involved with the HarvestPlus program since its inception…in testing new zinc wheat varieties, and seed production. Now we are planning to establish a flour mill,” said attendee and partnering farmer Harbansh Singh.

The pioneer of biofortification, HarvestPlus continues to share knowledge and facilitate connections among the growing network of partners to drive and connect supply and demand.

“Let’s work together for a nutrition revolution,” said keynote speaker and chef Ranveer Brar.

Dangote named among greatest leaders on Earth…global leaders laud his public spirit

The rating carried out by the Fortune Magazine, an American multinational business magazine headquartered in New York City, United States was released recently and focused mainly on the businesses run by the men and how they have used it to impact their society positively.

Foremost philanthropist and richest man in Africa, Aliko Dangote has been rated 11th of the 50 World’ Greatest leaders for 2019

The time-tested magazine, which first edition was published in February 1930, said the world’s greatest leaders both men and women are transforming the world and inspiring others to do so in business, government, philanthropy and the arts.

“These thinkers, speakers, and doers make bold choices and take big risks- and move others to do the same”, the magazine declared.

This is the first time Fortune magazine is recognizing and including Aliko Dangote in the annual ranking. Specifically, Dangote having popped up in the magazine’s radar earned nomination after being adjudged as having used business to acquire wealth and who is now converting his wealth into impactful philanthropy through his Aliko Dangote Foundation.

The top 10 greatest men and women, according to Fortune are: Bill and Melinda Gates, Jacinda Ardem (Prime Minister, New Zealand), Robert Mueller (Special Counsel, Department of Justice), Pony Ma (Founder and CEO, Tencent), Satya Nadella (CEO, Microsoft), Greta Thunberg (Student and climate activist, Sweden), Margrethe Vestager (Commissioner for Competition, European Union), Anna Nimiriano (Editor-in-Chief, Juba Monitor), Jose Andres (Chef/Founder, World Central Kitchen), and Dough Mcmillon and Lisa Woods (CEO; Senior Director, Strategy & Design for U.S. Benefits, Walmart).

The ranking of Dangote as one of the greatest business leaders has attracted comments by eminent persons around the world who described him as worthy of the nomination going by his business acumen and philanthropic gestures.

Global business giant and founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gate extolled the efforts of Dangote in making businesses play roles in provision of sound public health through his various interventions in health care issues especially in the fight against malnutrition and routine polio.

Gates, who himself was ranked along with Dangote, said “Aliko Dangote, through his leadership at the Aliko Dangote Foundation, is a key partner in the Polio eradication effort, strengthening routine immunisation and fighting malnutrition in Nigeria and across Africa. Aliko bridges the gap between private business and public health in a unique way and our shared belief that Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive drives our partnership.”

Renowned activist and co-founder of ONE, Paul David Hewson, popularly called Mr. Bono said he was not surprised at Mr. Dangote’s feat globally, saying his vision is as big as the African continent.

Bono, a global campaigner on taking action to end extreme poverty especially in Africa said: “Aliko has a vision just the size of his continent, but with humility of somebody who has just started his first job. It’s no surprise to me that Fortune would recognise his leadership because we have seen first-hand, through his service on ONE’s Board, the benefits of his wise counsel and grace.”

Also, the popular Economic analyst, Mr. Bismark Rewane stated that “Aliko remains understated but very potent and Africa’s most successful and decorated entrepreneur. He is a global financial and managerial behemoth.”

Dangote as the Africa’s richest – worth $16.4 billion, according to Bloomberg – and the four publicly traded companies under the umbrella of his Dangote Industries now account for about a third of the value of the Nigerian stock exchange.

That wealth is based on a big bet on Nigeria’s economic independence: Dangote’s peers give him credit for helping the country become self-sufficient in the sectors in which his companies compete (cement, agriculture and mining).

The Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF) is the Philanthropic endeavor of Aliko Dangote. The main objective of the Foundation is to reduce the number of lives lost to malnutrition and disease.

The Foundation is poised to combat Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in children, as the core of its programming. It has also resolved to use its investments in health, education, and economic empowerment to help lift people out of poverty.

It would be recalled that Dangote was last year ranked among 75 most powerful persons on the planet, ahead of the Vice-President of the United States of America, Mike Pence.

Aliko Dangote has been named among most powerful persons in the world for the past five consecutive years.  According to the Forbe’s 2018 ranking of the World Powerful people, Dangote ranked among world leaders like Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, Vladimir Putin the Russian President and Donald Trump, the President of the US, all of whom were ranked first, second and third respectively.

He was the only Nigerian on the list and one of the only two Africans who made the list with the other being the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who was ranked 45thmost powerful.

In the same vein, he was named among the 100 most influential personalities in the world in 2018 by Time Magazine, leading business broadcast organisation. The CNBC had earlier in same year ranked Dangote as one of the 25 people which have had most profound impact on business and finance worldwide.

He was rated the most influential African by Jeune Afrique in their classification of the most influential 50 Africans in 2018, and was also named the 6th most charitable person in the world in the same year according to Richtopia, a United Kingdom-based digital platform. He is, in addition, the richest African, according to Forbes.

Dangote stepped up his humanitarian activities recently spending billions of Naira to build hospitals and critical hospital equipment, the lack of which has forced Nigerians of means to seek medical attention abroad.

He also donated a N1.2 billion Business School complex to Bayero University in Kano and another one for the University of Ibadan Business School. Last month he donated 10 blocks of hall of students’ hostel that can accommodate 2,160 beds to the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna state.

The business mogul has continued through the Foundation by disbursing N10 billion to vulnerable women across the 774 local governments in the country.

Dangote made a donation of $2 million to the World Food Programme as part of efforts to help Pakistani nationals devastated by floods in the year 2010.

Aliko Dangote was made the chairperson of the Presidential Committee on Flood Relief, which raised in excess of N11.35 billion, of which Dangote himself contributed N2.5 billion, an amount higher than the entire contribution from the 36 state governors in Nigeria.

So far, the Foundation has spent over N7 billion in the troubled North Eastern part of Nigeria to see that the Internally Displaced Persons as a result of the activities of insurgents, are re-integrated back to the bigger society.

Overcoming challenges of food insecurity and lack of WASH facilities in Bonthe District

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

Most of the communities in Bonthe Sherbro Island depend on sources like this for drinking water  

Located in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, with 32 miles long and 15 miles wide covering an area of approximately 230 square miles, Bonthe Sherbro Island is one of the areas with the greatest food insecurity and poorest access to WASH facilities in the small West African country.

Communities in Bonthe largely get their drinking water from rivers or brooks, which is a serious health risk.

“The greatest challenge in the Sherbro Island has been water and the water we are drinking has a lot of salt in it. The water resembles clay. There is no school with WASH facilities not to talk about good toilet,” said Mayor of the Bonthe Municipal Council, Layemin Joe Sandi.

Moreover, according to the 2015 Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment (CFSVA) conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP), 49.8% of households across Sierra Leone are affected by food insecurity, and 59.7% in rural areas. Since 2010, food insecurity in Bonthe region has doubled, making it one of the most food insecure districts in the country. 

A 2013 Government of Sierra Leone health survey found that only 6.3% of children in rural areas receive an acceptable minimum food supply. According to the “Sierra Leone National Nutrition Survey” of 2017, chronic malnutrition in children, measured by “stunting”, is 31.4% in Bonthe and the district has the highest prevalence of childhood diseases. Malnutrition and diarrhoeal diseases are therefore among the main causes of infant mortality.

It is against this challenging backdrop that the NGO SEND Sierra Leone, with funding from German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (WHH), recently launched the ‘Promotion of Nutrition Sensitive WASH Self-Sufficiency project’ in Bonthe Sherbro Island, specifically targeting 50 very remote communities in Sittia and Dema chiefdoms.

The project’s overall objective is to contribute in improving the nutritional and health status of up to 1,000 households in the Bonthe Sherbro Island through the construction of water supply and sanitation infrastructure in targeted communities; establishment of structures for sustainable community participation; (financial) contributions to the development and maintenance of the WASH sector/institutions; and enabling households’ and communities’ access to improved WASH facilities through a WASH self-supply system.

Sittia and Dema chiefdoms depend on unprotected hand dug wells for drinking water and lack latrines, relying more on open defecation along the beach areas. The communities also have low knowledge on hygiene, nutrition and best sanitation practices. Due to the sandy soil, large number of the communities can only be accessed by motor boat, which is very expensive and in most communities, income is generated through the sale of fish. Agricultural activities also remain poor and at an insignificant scale to be able to provide sufficient food and income for the people. Development activities hardly reach this part of the country due to its riverine ecology, sandy soil and lack of inadequate river transport facilities, thereby limiting business activities.

“The project seeks to help the people of Bonthe District overcome these serious development challenges to be self-reliant, to be able to do things for themselves as a people. Government won’t be able to do everything for every community; government just won’t,” said Mohamed Jalloh, SEND Sierra Leone Project Manager during the project inception meeting with stakeholders from the target communities at the Bonthe Municipal Council Hall early March 2019.

During the meeting the project details, including budget and time lines, were shared with the stakeholders, seeking their reactions and inputs. According to Jalloh, that was to ensure the they understand the project package and to have a stake in it from the start. The stakeholders comprise Paramount Chiefs from the target communities, Councilors, women and youth leaders, representatives from the Health, Agriculture and Water ministries, the District Council, security sector, donors and the implementing partners.

“We want to get the stakeholders from the target communities to be involved every step of the way; to let them know their responsibilities and we work together to achieve the objectives of the project,” continued Jalloh.

According to Jalloh, the project will facilitate the mobilization of communities to participate in the development of WASH facilities through the community WASH self-supply approach. This is a participatory sensitization process in which the communities become aware of their hygiene and sanitation challenges and jointly develop solutions using the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) or the Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) approaches.

By the WASH self-supply approach, he continued, communities will be sensitized on gender, WASH, nutrition, village savings and loan scheme (VSLA), microfinance, business development and how communities can promote self-initiatives to mobilize resources on their own to develop low cost WASH project proposals to a Proposal Evaluation Committee set up by the project. When a community proposal is selected, the Water and Sanitation Promotion (WASAP) Company will be responsible for installations as experts on the self-supply approach to make sure communities develop water, toilets and other sanitary facilities to improve on their WASH status.

“We will recruit and train 100 community multipliers to serve as intermediaries in carrying out community mobilization and awareness raising activities on the project content and approaches in addition to three trained local technicians in each community who will continue to provide WASH services to communities after the project shall have ended,” disclosed Jalloh.

He added that about 50 representatives from the DHMT, DC, the media, Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), and community chiefs will be directly involved in the project through evaluation, monitoring and steering activities; plus an indirect target group of 3,000 households (18,000 persons) to be reached through the rollout and replication of the project activities.

Meanwhile, Mayor Sandi said they are happy for the project and commended the NGO for the kind of transparency they have begun to show from the start.

Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association (DEJA-SL).

Nutrition Africa Investor Forum to help raise finance for high-impact nutrition businesses in the continent

Nutrition Africa Investor Forum (NAIF) is a first-of-a-kind event, hosted by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), in partnership with Royal DSM, the SUN Business Network (SBN) and African Business magazine, that aims to position nutrition as a promising new investment area


Nutrition Africa Investor Forum to help raise finance for high-impact nutrition businesses in the continent

Over 200 delegates, including dealmakers, entrepreneurs and investors will meet at the Nutrition Africa Investor Forum (NAIF) on October 16-17 – World Food Day — in Nairobi, Kenya, to explore partnerships, access business finance and enter new markets. Over these two days, selected Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) from across Africa will have opportunities to participate in the first ever Scaling Up Nutrition Pitch Competition as well as The Nutrition Dealroom to meet venture capitalists and business financiers to improve their access to finance.

NAIF is a first-of-a-kind event, hosted by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) (, in partnership with Royal DSM, the SUN Business Network (SBN) and African Business magazine, that aims to position nutrition as a promising new investment area. The event will bring together leaders from commerce, agri-food, development agencies, academia along with investors to share their experiences, present research results, explore collaborations and spark new ideas – all with the aim of developing new projects and attracting investment for high-impact nutrition businesses.

Malnutrition affects millions of children across the world. Africa alone has estimated that 58.7 million children under the age of five are stunted – having a low height for a given age –  and 13.8 million who are wasting – low weight for a certain height. There is no doubt that stunted children today will lead to stunted economies tomorrow. In fact, African nations lose ( between 1.9% and 16% of the gross domestic product (GDP) annually to undernutrition due to increased mortality, absenteeism, chronic illnesses, and lost productivity. Governments alone cannot address this issue. Private sector investment is key to tackle this challenge. In fact, the nutrition sector offers tremendous opportunities to businesses.

There is a central role for business in tackling malnutrition in Africa, explains Fokko Wientjesvice president of nutrition in emerging markets and public-private partnerships at Royal DSM.

“As scaling up nutrition action delivers at least $16 in returns on investment for every $1 spent (, nutrition-sensitive capital investments along the entire food value chain are likely to represent ( a tremendous purpose-driven investment opportunity. We will fundamentally integrate SDG 1 (poverty reduction) with SDG 2 (hunger & nutrition) by producing locally; Africa nourishes Africa.”

Africa’s demographic dividend is also an opportunity, Mr. Wientjes reveals, “There are more than 1 billion people in the current African consumer market. This is expected to increase to more than 2 billion ( by 2050. With 226 million people ( aged between 15 and 25 years, the continent also has the youngest population in the world. This represents enormous potential: a young, growing African consumer market that is more health-conscious, favouring nutritious and healthy foods. Emerging markets are the fastest urbanizing countries in the world. They are moving away from subsistence and smallholder farming and with that separating the producer from the consumer.”

In fact, SMEs, along with smallholder farmers, make up the bulk of the actors in the food system in developing and emerging markets. They play a key role as input suppliers, off-takers, processors, and distributors, which furthermore creates jobs and enhances regional economic growth.

Yet, barriers to accessing finance mean that agri-food SMEs are not achieving their full potential in developing and scaling up market-based solutions that can improve the consumption of safe and nutritious foods.

“We have a great opportunity to close that gap,” explains Dr. Lawrence Haddad, GAIN’s Executive Director, “by creating a sustainable food value chain and working through local agrifood industry SMEs, to ensure that nutritious foods are more accessible, affordable, and aspirational. To help this cause, GAIN has recently launched a Nutritious Foods Financing Program (, which aims to build and maintain an investable pipeline of opportunities among agrifood SMEs, linking this to investors, leveraging blended finance options to help de-risk private investments, and providing technical assistance to investees”.

The Forum will also be host to two engagement channels to facilitate partnerships between high-impact nutrition businesses and venture capitalists and financers:

  1. The Nutrition Dealroom will bring investors face-to-face with established small and medium growing businesses. This transaction and deal-making platform will showcase Africa’s fastest-growing enterprises working to improve nutrition in a sustainable and scalable way and aims to achieve tangible results by matching a curated portfolio of investment-ready companies with private sector investors.
  2. The first Africa edition of the Scaling Up Nutrition Pitch Competition, will be launched. Organised by the Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network (SBN), an initiative of GAIN and the UN World Food Program (WFP), plus local partners, the competition aims to showcase investment opportunities presented by SMEs working to improve access to nutritious food. Out of more than 450 outstanding entries, 21 SMEs have been shortlisted from national pitch competitions in Nigeria, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia. Each entrepreneur will pitch their innovative nutritional investment opportunities to a panel of influential judges. The judges will select the overall winner who will be awarded with the title of SBN Nutrition Champion, which includes a travel and technical assistance prize. In addition, other top performing finalists stand a chance to win cash and technical assistance awards generously contributed by partners.

“Through years of experience working with African partners and governments, I am convinced that if we grow and support high impact businesses in food systems in Africa, we will be able to make inroads to reducing malnutrition,” concludes Dr. Haddad, “The potential is huge if we can get the investment recipe right”.

Why African farmers should balance pesticides with other control methods

The Conversation

cornInsect pests cause almost half of the crop losses in Africa. If the continent is to feed its growing population, farmers must find ways to control them. Pests account for high losses in other developing regions too.

Distinguished Post Doctoral Researcher, Department of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Disclosure statement: Esther Ndumi Ngumbi is a 2015 Food Security Fellow with the New Voices, Aspen Institute

For smallholder farmers in particular, pest management needs to be affordable, safe and sustainable. It should avoid the drawbacks of synthetic pesticides as far as possible. Research is now showing that integrated approaches can achieve these goals.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, for example, recently launched a comprehensive guide that will help millions of smallholder farmers across Africa to manage the fall armyworm. This is a new insect pest in over 30 African countries and a serious threat to maize crops, a staple food.

The guide suggests using biological control and local remedies rather than insecticides that can work in an emergency but may be ineffective and harmful in the longer run.

This is a good example of how farmers can be encouraged to balance the use of insecticides with other forms of pest control.

African smallholder farmers produce 80% of the continent’s food. It’s imperative that they have the tools and knowledge to sustainably control insect pests, avoiding the almost 50% losses that arise due to them. But it’s also important that as the pressure increases on them to produce more, they must also learn to think of their health and our environment. Governments should make farmers aware of the risks that come with insecticide use only.


When insect pests or diseases threaten their crops, many smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are poor, turn to pesticides – man-made chemicals that can prevent infestations or kill the pests.

Pesticide use is growing in many countries including CameroonEthiopiaGhanaKenya and Nigeria. In 2017, Nigeria alone spent over USD$400 million on these chemicals.

Pesticides are popular because they are effective. They directly reduce the incidence of insect pests which severely limits crop yields. This means higher yields and surpluses, and therefore higher incomes for farmers, less malnutrition and improved food security. Also, many of the older, more dangerous, pesticides are cheap. The benefits are there, but they are short-term.

In the long run, their use isn’t sustainable because insects quickly become resistant and because their use can cause significant damage to the natural environment as well as the health of farmers and consumers. There’s also a lack of regulation on their use. The chemicals are oftensold in used bottles, with little or no instruction on how to use them. And many farmers don’t follow appropriate safety measures.

recent study explored the relationship between pesticide use on farmers’ fields, the value of crop output, and a suite of human indicators in four African countries — Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. It showed consistent evidence that pesticide use is correlated with significantly greater agricultural output value. But it is also costly in terms of human health and the loss of labour supply due to time lost to illness.

In 2017, a UN report showed that about 200,000 people, mostly from developing countries, die every year from pesticide poisoning.

Agriculture needs a way to manage harmful insects without destroying the ecological balance of the environment.

Integrated pest management

Integrated pest management is an approach that doesn’t rule out the use of pesticides, but uses them as little as possible and only for strong reasons. It promotes the use of safer alternatives, like biocontrol, which uses natural enemies to control pests, and cultural control practices which modify the growing environment to reduce unwanted pests.

These approaches include:

  • The use of resistant cultivars. These are plant varieties that have been bred to resist insect damage
  • Crop rotation which changes the crops planted every season, or year, to break the life-cycle of insect pests and discourage pests from staying on the farm
  • Habitat manipulation techniques which involve planting a variety of crops in and around the farm in an effort to increase the number of natural insect enemies on the farm land
  • The use of pheromone traps. These are small glue traps that contain insect pest attractants.

Several research centres in Africa champion this approach. The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology is one of them. It is the only institution that specialises in insect research. Since its inception in 1970, it has rolled out several integrated pest management programs for major insect pests. For example, between 1993-2008, itchampioned the biological control programme to control the stem borer pests; Busseola fusca, Chilo partellus and Sesamia calamistis – major pests for maize in Africa. As a result, it contributed an aggregate monetary surplus of USD$ 1.4 billion to the economies of the three countries where it was implemented – Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia.

This is one of many success stories. First used in 1959, integrated pest management has controlled many of Africa’s top insect pests, including aphids, Africa’s main cassava insect pest Bemicia tabaci), the legume pod borer a serious pest for cowpeas, and lepidopteran stem borers which harm cereal crops including maize, rice and sorghum.

Most importantly, it has been one of the most effective approaches in combating the fall armyworm. Early this year development and research agencies released a handbook on the approach which will serve as a resource to many African countries.

Despite its success, insect pests are still a major problem. This is becausethey are constantly adapting to methods used to control them and because there are new, invasive insect species and strains emerging everyday.

Moving forward

Integrated approaches to pest management appear to hold more promise than single approaches.

The challenge is to ensure that Africa’s farmers adopt practices that are sustainable and friendly to the environment and human health.

Farmers will need incentives and tools to change their practices. For example, access to insect resistant varieties of crops.