Nigeria has moved closer to ending the chronic issues of malnutrition especially in children as the Minister of Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah launched the Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods project in Lagos.
The $10m four-year project is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and is designed to support local food processors produce more fortified foods to combat malnutrition.
The project will be implemented by TechnoServe in partnership with Partners in Food Solution and other non-governmental organizations.
The intervention fund is to boost the capacity of at least 40 local food companies to produce and sell fortified foods for local market with the objective to increase the competitiveness of companies that produce nutritious foods and to ensure Nigerians of all status have access to healthy food to meet daily dietary requirements.
The Minister who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Malam Aminu Bisalla, said the National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHS) assessment of 2013, reveals that two out of three children under the age of five are chronically malnourished, pointing out that the Federal Government had been making effort to improve the situation with its drive to ensure compliance to food fortification regulations.
He said: “As a government, we have responsibility to ensure our citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones – women and children – have access to nutritious foods. We will also continue to make business case for nutrition. It is important that the private sector does not see its investment in production of fortified foods as mere response to corporate social responsibility.
Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote who was represented by the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Dangote Foundation Zouera Youssoufou said the company is committed to addressing the issue of malnutrition stating that his company’s intervention will target 1 million malnourished children in Nigeria by 2021.
The Country Director of TechnoServe, Dr. Larry Umunna, promised that his organization would mobilize experts and resources to help solve technical and investment challenges facing local food processors.
Umunna: “We will use this platform to maintain continuous engagement with government and private sector players with the aim of restoring the glory of our national food industry. Nigerians deserve fortified foods.”
Youssoufou: “One of our biggest focus is malnutrition. Beyond the fact that we are trying to reach 500,000 children in the next three years and a million by 2021 through this project that we are doing together, is also how do we make sure that the children who survive severe malnutrition can grow.”
Also speaking, the Director of Nutrition for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in United States, Mr Shawn Baker, disclosed that the intervention was necessitated by low technical expertise and compliance among food processors in three African countries, namely Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.
Baker said: “Almost half of children that die in Africa yearly die because of lack of access to nutritious foods. It has been established that fortified foods are essential for physical and mental development of children. At Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we believe tackling challenges against production of fortified foods is important to promote global health. We are supporting this initiative to galvanise the private sector players to ensure that the foods they are taking to the market is healthy for consumption”.
Umunna also called for immediate action from the private sector, government, Civil Society Organizations and Donors. “The Private Sector must comply with food fortification regulations, develop adequately fortified nutritious food products; Government must create an enabling environment for fortification, address issues relating to trade, investment, tariffs and create incentives for the private sector to benefit.
“The CSOs should work to improve consumer awareness of the importance of food fortification, empower consumers to demand for fortified foods and donors to provide resources and investment in supporting government and the private sector for the production and consumption of nutritious foods”.
The launch was attended by representatives of the ministers of Agriculture, Health and Budget and National Planning and NAFDAC. Donors and international development agencies at the event included USAID, DFID, UNICEF, EU, BMGF, ECOWAS, World Bank and the Aliko Dangote Foundation while manufacturers include Flour Mills of Nigeria, Honeywell and others.