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Africa lagging behind in getting five-a-day

Africans are not eating enough fruit and vegetables, a critical problem on a continent where obesity, diabetes and heart disease are becoming as concerning as under-nutrition, scientists said Monday.

In the majority of African countries, half the population could be classified as overweight, Jacky Ganry from French agricultural research centre CIRAD told a conference on horticulture in Dakar, Senegal.

“In Africa we are in a critical situation, the average per capita availability (of fruit and vegetables) is far below the recommended level,” he said. The World Health Organisation puts the level at 400g a day.

Massive urbanisation, lifestyle changes and dietary habits — particularly in urban areas — along with physical inactivity and inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables are leading to growing numbers of non-communicable diseases.

This includes cancer, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“In urban areas the prevalence of obesity is above the prevalence in rural areas,” Ganry said.

‘Double burden’
Obesity was the lowest on the continent in Ethiopia but 31% of all deaths in 2005 came from non-communicable diseases, he said.

In Dakar in 1980 there were only 200 cases of diabetes a year, this has grown to 2 000.

“Increasing the availability and consumption of fruit and vegetables in Africa is a major challenge because of increasing urbanisation, nutrition transitions, increasing prices and food safety concerns,” the researcher said.

The conference was organised by the Food and Agricultural Organisation to look into how to maintain a supply of fresh food in the face of massive and rapid urbanisation.

Chris Ojiewo, a vegetable breeder with the World Vegetable Centre based in Tanzania, called under-nutrition and obesity Africa’s “double burden”.

He is pushing the use of African indigenous vegetables which grow easily, and have much higher levels of micro-nutrients, to combat these problems. — Sapa-AFP

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