Making balanced nutrition a reality for every child in West and Central Africa
First Foods Business Forum: a collective commitment to ensure rich and diverse nutrition for every child
Cotonou, 11 September 2023. The first Forum on children’s first foods in West and Central Africa is held from 12 to 14 September in Cotonou, Benin. Organized by UNICEF in close collaboration with the Government of Benin and in partnership with public and private actors, this innovative initiative aims to promote equitable access to rich, balanced, and diversified diets for children aged 6 to 23 months in the region. The Regional Forum is part of the "First Foods" initiative, which aims to transform food systems to sustainably combat all forms of child malnutrition.
Child malnutrition remains a major concern in West and Central Africa. Nearly a third of children (32 per cent) are stunted and nearly 80 per cent lack sufficient dietary diversity, according to joint estimates by the World Bank, WHO and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund). These figures demonstrate the urgency of action to ensure balanced development for every child. Without a diverse diet, children lack the essential nutrients they need to grow and develop. This has lasting consequences for their physical, mental, and future health.
By bringing together government representatives, entrepreneurs, researchers, civil society organizations, UN agencies, investors, and donors, the First Foods Forum aims to catalyze innovative solutions to collectively provide concrete and sustainable responses, including by:
- Strengthening governments' commitment to implement standards and regulations to support healthy diets for young children.
- Encouraging participants, especially micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, to improve access to nutritious complementary foods.
- Mobilizing donors and investors to support the First Foods initiative and promote sustainable food systems.
"Malnutrition is a violation of children's rights. Together, we must think about sustainable solutions, encourage commitments and create a new space for cooperation. West and Central Africa has all the wealth and resources necessary to provide every child with the rich and diverse nutrition he or she deserves: we must value them. It is time to rethink food systems to meet the needs of people and every child in the region," said Félicité Tchibindat, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
Discussions will focus on practical solutions to improve the production, processing and retailing of nutritious locally produced food for young children. The forum will also highlight the importance of building community resilience to conflict and climate change and promoting food sovereignty in the region.
By sharing their experiences, expertise and commitments, participants will help build a future where child malnutrition is no longer an obstacle to development and prosperity.
UNICEF calls on all stakeholders to join this collective initiative and come together to give every child in every country in the region the future they deserve through rich, balanced, and diversified nutrition.
About the First Foods Initiative:
Despite progress in West and Central Africa on stunting, the region saw an increase of 6.5 million children affected between 2000 and 2020, mainly due to population growth. This trend undermines the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, being the only region to have seen such a significant increase. One in three children in West and Central Africa is stunted, highlighting the critical importance of adequate nutrition for survival and development. In response to this challenge, UNICEF is launching First Foods, an initiative to transform food systems in a climate-resilient way. This action aims to have a positive impact on children, the environment, economies and societies in West and Central Africa.
Find the First Foods initiative on our website
UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in West and Central Africa, visit https://www.unicef.org/wca.