BACKGROUND: Setting research priorities for improving nutrition in Africa is currently ad hoc and there is a need to shift the status quo in the light of slow progress in reducing malnutrition. This study explored African stakeholders' views on research priorities in the context of environmental and socio-demographic changes that will impact on nutritional status in Africa in the coming years.
METHODS: Using Multi-Criteria Mapping, quantitative and qualitative data were gathered from 91 stakeholders representing 6 stakeholder groups (health professionals, food Industry, government, civil society, academics and research funders) in Benin, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda. Stakeholders appraised six research options (ecological nutrition, nutritional epidemiology, community nutrition interventions, behavioural nutrition, clinical nutrition and molecular nutrition) for how well they could address malnutrition in Africa.
RESULTS: Impact (28.3%), research efficacy (23.6%) and social acceptability (22.4%) were the criteria chosen the most to evaluate the performance of research options. Research on the effectiveness of community interventions was seen as a priority by stakeholders because they were perceived as likely to have an impact relatively quickly, were inexpensive and cost-effective, involved communities and provided direct evidence of what works. Behavioural nutrition research was also highly appraised. Many stakeholders, particularly academics and government were optimistic about the value of ecological nutrition research (the impact of environmental change on nutritional status). Research funders did not share this enthusiasm. Molecular nutrition was least preferred, considered expensive, slow to have an impact and requiring infrastructure. South Africa ranked clinical and molecular nutrition the highest of all countries.
CONCLUSION: Research funders should redirect research funds in Africa towards the priorities identified by giving precedence to develop the evidence for effective community nutrition interventions. Expanding research funding in behavioural and ecological nutrition was also valued and require multi-disciplinary collaborations between nutritionists, social scientists, agricultural and climate change scientists.