The first 1,000 days of a child’s life is of paramount importance, starting in the womb and continuing until their second birthday. It is an incredible period when children develop over one million neural connections per second – more than at any other time in one’s life. By the of age two, 70% of the brain’s connections have been made. These connections enable our children to learn, to develop their emotions, and gain an incredible diversity of abilities and talents.
During this period, the rapid growth of a child’s body and brain requires essential nutrients including protein, vitamins, and minerals. Indeed, up to 75% of each meal goes to building the baby’s brain. Children who do not receive the nutrients they need during this key development stage will suffer from chronic malnutrition. As a result, they won’t make the connections. The consequences of chronic malnutrition – stunted growth, impaired brain development, and a weakened immune system – are irreversible. Thus, preventing affected children from a healthy and prosperous future, and depleting our human capital.
A third of African children experience chronic malnutrition. Our dreams and our aspirations to have a better life for them are compromised, making it more challenging for them to help their family, their community in the future, and ultimately to increase prosperity in their country, for their continent and the world.
We are still wrestling with the economic, social and health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This involves making hard choices over the type of investments to prioritise. In this context, it is important to remember that our collective future depends on our ability to allow every child to fully contribute to building our continent. Allowing our children to have the right nutrition to make the neural connections they need is essential. It is a sure way to empower every African child to contribute fully to the transformation of the African continent.
At Ecobank Foundation and at UNITLIFE, our organisations understand the power of partnerships and believe in global citizen solidarity. We have joined forces and are pooling resources to enable to every citizen, according to his/her means, to help make the connection for future generations.
We know this works. It was by pooling our resources that we ended Ebola. And by pooling our resources we can continue to limit the impact of Covid-19 in our countries. Yet, granted, it is much harder to pool resources for an invisible force like chronic malnutrition. The elusive nature of the danger tricks us to believe that we have time. We do not. Therefore, we need to pool our resources against this disease now.
This is possible. Each shilling, franc, rand, dollar, euro, pula, dirham, etc. pooled will help ensure that the next generations of teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, athletes, and farmers have equal opportunities to embrace the world. And this starts with nutritious food. We must ensure parents are able to feed their children with the essential nutrients they need to make the connections. We can seek ways, in our daily engagements to become advocates for change.
Ecobank Foundation and UNITLIFE are launching the “Make the connection” campaign on 10 February 2021, on the United Nations World Pulses Day. World Pulses Day is a designated United Nations global event to recognise the importance of pulses (beans, lentils, and peas) as a global food. This day provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production with the aim of enhancing food security and nutrition. With this campaign, we want to shed light on the importance of healthy nutrition to protect the next generation.
This campaign will also highlight projects focused on better food systems for good nutrition. One such project is taking place in Niger, where UNITLIFE supports the capacity of a local SME to expand its distribution network of biofortified cereals through our implementation partner, the non-governmental organisation GOAL. Biofortification is an innovative and impactful way of increasing the nutritional value of seeds. This initiative alone will improve the nutrition security of 283,000 community members.
“Make the connection” enables everyone to take action against chronic malnutrition. It is about protecting our children’s future, our human capital. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it takes only $2 per day to have access to nutritious food. Pooling our resources for the next generation is painless when we invite more people to micro-donate. The power is in the numbers; we are 1.3bn on the continent and 57.5m of our children are malnourished. We can stop this scourge by improving the nutrition of communities affected by chronic malnutrition. To do this, we need to pool together and support the “Make the connection” campaign in any way we possibly can.
Assia Sidibe is Director of the Secretariat of UNITLIFE.
Carl Manlan is COO of Ecobank Foundation.