Efforts to develop food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) for Ethiopia reached a milestone in May, when a workshop to draft the technical guidelines and general messages was held at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) Training Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The draft technical recommendations and general messages were drawn up following discussions of evidence reviews conducted by teams of the technical committee on the project. These reviews identified multiple burdens of nutrition-related problems to be addressed by the FBDGs, including highly-prevalent micronutrient deficiencies, especially iodine, zinc, vitamin A, folate, and calcium; protein energy malnutrition; increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus; and cardiovascular diseases.
The objective of the FBDGs is to provide dietary recommendations for Ethiopians two years and older for increased diet quality, including diversity and food safety for optimal health. Diet diversity in Ethiopia is very low, and there is also a need to address food safety concerns. Recognizing that one limiting factor for diet diversity is lack of availability and access to a diverse food basket, an additional objective of the FBDGs is to promote broad food system actions supporting diet quality sensitivity to sustainability.
In the workshop's welcoming and opening remarks, Masresha Tessema, Director of the Food Science and Nutrition Research Directorate at EPHI, expressed appreciation for the efforts of the project and described it as a flagship project of EPHI. The project is a collaboration involving several stakeholders: EPHI, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and Wageningen University & Research (WUR). WUR leads the Food Systems for Healthier Diets research flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
A4NH engagement with the project is well aligned with the program’s main goal of maximizing the health and nutritional benefits to the poor from agricultural development by identifying, developing, and supporting synergies between the agriculture, health, and nutrition sectors. It is important that developments in agriculture and food systems across the different agro-ecological zones in Ethiopia bring about the production of a diverse food basket to support both rural and urban consumers' access to a more diverse food basket.
The FBDGs will also be intended to promote sustaining existing positive dietary habits, such as the dominant consumption of legumes in Ethiopia. The Assistant FAO Representative Programmes for Ethiopia, Workicho Jateno, noted that FAO support to the project is part of the broader support FAO is giving to develop FBDGs in many low- and middle-income countries, including Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, and Zambia.
The goal of FBDGs is to make available a practical tool that provides recommendations and guidance on types of foods and food groups to be eaten regularly to promote health and prevent chronic diseases. In Ethiopia, this process is part of a number of nutrition initiatives supported by FAO. Others include:
- Updating the national Food Composition Table,
- Piloting the Minimum Dietary Diversity score for Women,
- Mainstreaming nutrition into school feeding,
- Developing local farmer-friendly procurement mechanisms for home-grown school feeding,
- Strengthening a nutrition-sensitive Moringa value chain, and
- Supporting nutrition-sensitive agriculture governance and coordination.
The next steps include refining the draft guidelines through a consultative process with key stakeholders and translating the technical recommendations into guidance for daily food choices through a diet modelling process. Once finalized, the guidelines will be tested under different settings to support contextualization to different parts of the country. Ethiopia plans to release the country's first food-based dietary guidelines by 2020.
Namukolo Covic is the A4NH Country Coordinator for Ethiopia and a Senior Research Coordinator with the International Food Policy Research Institute.
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