by Steve Lewis

“You can’t study if you’re hungry” is a new report by RESULTS UK, looking at how the Government of Tanzania is addressing challenges related to early childhood development. The report focuses on the impact of undernutrition on the education and learning of children.

Two UK MPs, Mark Williams and Cathy Jamieson, accompanied by RESULTS UK staff, took part in a fact finding delegation to assess how undernutrition and limited access to education were impacting the abilities to achieve their potential. The visit also looked closely at how UK aid is supporting Tanzania to make progress on these issues.

The report states that in Tanzania, 42% of children under five are chronically malnourished (stunted) whilst 5% are severely malnourished (wasted). Undernutrition can lead to permanent physical and cognitive damage that can impact a child’s performance in school. While Tanzania has experienced steady economic growth over the last few years, economic growth on its own is not sufficient to reduce undernutrition. The report recommends that the Tanzanian government, supported by donors like the UK, should invest directly in nutrition programmes to effectively achieve nutritional outcomes.

From meetings with Tanzanian MPs and Government officials there appears to be strong political leadership for addressing Tanzania’s nutrition challenges, although coordination among multiple ministries is a concern. The report urges that this high level political commitment is matched by better collaboration among agencies and an increase in resources to allow nutrition to become a priority throughout all ministries and districts. This is essential for ensuring that nutrition outcomes improve. In the long term, the governments of both the UK and Tanzania should advocate nutrition becoming a distinct priority in the post-2015 development framework.

In Tanzania, a lack of essential nutrients in the average child’s diet is one of the key determinants of undernutrition – it is not necessarily a lack of food, but a lack of nutritious and varied food. Lack of nutrients and vitamins can be mitigated through the fortification of staple foods such as flour and salt. The Tanzanian government has recognized the cost effectiveness of this method and has, with the help of the UK government, invested in fortifying flour. The report recommends Tanzania expands on this by fortifying other key staple foods, such as maize.

Tanzania has made very strong progress in getting children into primary school, and the net enrolment of children is now at 95%. However, many children are marginalised by ‘under the counter’ school fees and classes are often overcrowded because of the lack of trained teachers. The delegation visited a teacher-training college, which is supported by UK aid, and saw how important this was.

It is important that the UK government continues its support to teacher-training in Tanzania, supports teacher recruitment and works closely with the Government of Tanzania ensure that the teaching profession is valued, with salary and conditions to reflect this.

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