KIGALI, Rwanda- The United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI) is essentially a report card that marks nations’ progress in a number of interrelated categories: life expectancy, educational achievement and income. The HDI is unique in that it tells not only a country-specific story, but also relates each nation’s data to track global progress.
Rwanda ranked a dismal 167 out of 187 countries on the HDI for 2013.
The World Food Programme (WFP) classifies Rwanda as a “least developed country,” short on income and low on food. There are 11.2 million people who call Rwanda home.
With 416 people per square kilometer, it ranks as one of the most densely populated nations in the entire African continent, and keeps growing at a whopping rate of 2.8 percent annually (this places Rwanda squarely in the top 30 fastest growing countries worldwide).
Though population expansion seems unlimited for this East-Central African nation, Rwanda’s natural resources are limited. As agriculture accounts for over one-third of Rwanda’s GDP and 80 percent of cumulative export revenue, innovation in agricultural technology and sustainable farming will play a pivotal role in the nation’s future.
At present, per capita income hovers at 644 USD. Though the economy is on the upswing with 7.2 percent growth in GDP annually, malnutrition in Rwanda is still a reality.
Recent Gains Underscore Chronic Food Insecurity
The WFP and African Union Commission’s Cost of Hunger Report applauds Rwanda’s “impressive” progress in reducing malnutrition in children between 2005 and 2010, but cautions that the 11 percent prevalence of underweight children carries significant risks.
Of all child mortality in Rwanda, 21.9 percent is associated with food insecurity; of those children, only one in three receives proper health care.
Stunted growth, a side effect, is associated with 12.7 percent of primary school repetitions and 1.1 fewer educational years per undernourished child.
The Economic Impact of Stunting
Stunted growth affects 49 percent of adults and drastically changed the physiological profile of Rwanda’s workforce. The Cost of Hunger Report estimates that exact impact to be a whopping 9.4 percent reduction in available laborers.
Annually, malnutrition in Rwanda costs the nation an estimated 503.6 billion RWF (approximately 746.1 million USD), nearly 12 percent of GDP.
A 2010 FHI 360 publication describes stunting as “a high priority for reducing the global burden of disease and fostering economic development of low-income countries.” Their brief, Why Stunting Matters, outlines the ramifications of stunting on both children and adults (namely, maternal mortality, cognitive impairment and low earning potential).
Tools for Improvement
The majority of physiological damage caused by malnutrition occurs during the first two years of life, at which time infection risk is also at its peak. This risky period should be a target for aid organizations, whose interventions should incorporate fortified food supplements, nutritional counseling and community-based agricultural improvement measures to alleviate food shortages.
On a policy level, malnutrition metrics should reflect not only weight, but also height. Current methodologies incorporate only the former statistic and do not incorporate stunting as an indicator (underweight children and stunted children are two distinct issues that require specific interventions).
Finally, continued support for research and innovation will provide for effective, country-specific programs that will identify nutritional needs and the supplements that fill them, empower a generation of parents to ensure proper nutrition for their children and provide Rwandans with supplements to fuel a nutritional and economic transformation.