by Kathleen Van Royen, Carl Lachat, Michelle Holdsworth, Karlien Smit, Joyce Kinabo, Dominique Roberfroid, Eunice Nago, Christopher Garimoi Orach, Patrick Kolsteren
Optimal nutrition is critical for human development and economic growth. Sub-Saharan Africa is facing high levels of food insecurity and only few sub-Saharan African countries are on track to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. Effective research capacity is crucial for addressing emerging challenges and designing appropriate mitigation strategies in sub-Saharan Africa. A clear understanding of the operating environment for nutrition research in sub-Saharan Africa is a much needed prerequisite. We collected data on the barriers and requirements for conducting nutrition research in sub-Saharan Africa through semi-structured interviews with 144 participants involved in nutrition research in 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. A total of 133 interviews were retained for coding. The main barriers identified for effective nutrition research were the lack of funding due to poor recognition by policymakers of the importance of nutrition research and under-utilisation of research findings for developing policy, as well as an absence of research priority setting from within Africa. Current research topics were perceived to be mainly determined by funding bodies from outside Africa. Nutrition researchers argued for more commitment from policymakers at national level. The low capacity for nutrition research was mainly seen as a consequence of insufficient numbers of nutrition researchers, limited skills and a poor research infrastructure. In conclusion, African nutrition researchers argued how research priorities need to be identified by African stakeholders, accompanied by consensus building to enable creating a problem-driven national research agenda. In addition, it was considered necessary to promote interactions among researchers, and between researchers and policymakers. Multidisciplinary research and international and cross-African collaboration were seen as crucial to build capacity in sub-Saharan nutrition research.