But what do we mean by the human capital? The human capital is the stock of values, morals, education and skills which human beings in a particular community possess that they can use to perform labour so as to produce economic value. It is the acquisition of skills and intellectual ability that can make them become employable and productive human beings. This will enable them contribute to the economic development of their societies through the earning and purchasing power that empowers them to contribute to the material advancement of their families, their communities and the nation. So there is no away one can underestimate the significance of building the human capital.
Society needs teachers, nurses, lawyers, doctors, engineers, even drivers and plumbers. Without these, or even where they are available but in short supply, that society will have problems with development, whether they have abundant natural resources. That is why African countries are producers of raw materials but they cannot process them to add economic value. So building the human capital is important and should not be downplayed.
Education and skills training alone are not enough for laying the foundation for building the human capital, even though this is the most visible part of the process. One important foundation for building the human capital is nutrition. Good nutrition contributes to children’s learning, or cognitive, ability. Malnutrition can make children become stunted. It affects not only their physical size but also their intellectual capacity. Malnutrition in children makes them drop out of school, and in the end they become unproductive, and an economic burden to their families, their communities and the nation. So nutrition is an important block in building the human capital. That is why in developed countries, school feeding programmes go alongside the school system.
Good nutrition, especially for children, builds their immune system. The nutrients they need will fight against diseases in their bodies if taken in the right quantity. If not, they will be sick most of the time and this keeps them out of school. Thus they will miss out and find it difficult to proceed to the next class. Think of a child who is constantly absent from school because of illness. The chances of completing primary school are almost nil. Good nutrition therefore builds children’s immune system, besides strengthening their ability to learn.
Good nutrition gives people the strength to perform physical labour. Physical strength is an asset for any human being. Think of those who play football or take part in other sporting activities. Besides the skill which they need to learn, physical strength is an asset for them. Think of the military and the police. No physically weak people are needed in these two institutions. In fact their training alone demands that they are physically strong.
But where does it all begin?
It begins in the first 1000 days of a child’s life: from the moment of conception to the time of his second birth day. This is the period that parents need to pay more attention to in their child’s early development. This is the period in which pregnant and later lactating mothers need to be well nourished because in pregnancy, it is the food that the pregnant mother eats that nourishes the foetus in her womb. If the pregnant mother is malnourished, this will affect not only the mother during child birth but also the baby when it is born. That is why pregnant women should be well nourished.
Then after birth the young child needs to be fed exclusively on breast milk for six months. Complementary feeding can follow after six months-when the mother introduces the child to other nutritious foods. If this period is missed, the child will miss out on proper growth, physical as well as intellectual, even if he survives.
For these reasons Government, the development partners and parents need to pay more attention to children’s nutrition in Sierra Leone than they are doing now if building the human capital should have any meaning.