Building capacity for bio-fortified foods –


HarvestPlus, an international organisation, in collaboration with some nonprofit organisations, held a Nutritious Food Fair in Lagos. The event’s objective was to showcase sustainable bio-fortified food production and agricultural practices. The fair brought together input suppliers, financiers and off-takers. DANIEL ESSIET reports.

Promoting bio-fortified foods could be the right approach to ensure food and nutritional security. And to meet the demands of the rapidly growing bio-fortified food market, HarvestPlus Nigeria held its Nutritious Food Fair (NFF) in Lagos. It is held yearly and at alternating venues, since 2014.

The event, which held from November 7 to 9, was an opportunity for farmers and stakeholders to interact. It attracted high level keynote speakers, including globally acclaimed agricultural reformer and music icon Prince Adeniyi Adegeye a.k.a King Sunny Ade.

There were also visitors from across the country, captivating stands, with latest developments and food processors on display, while farmers and customers talked with one another.

Harvest Plus Country Manager Dr Paul Ilona said the organisation was pursuing an ecosystem approach to support smallholder farmers on all aspects of the value chain. This means bringing together input suppliers, financiers and off-takers with training for business skills and agronomic practices through a relationship that is sustainable and mutually beneficial.

He noted that nearly a billion people suffered from hunger every day and another two billion facing hidden hunger, including chronic shortages of essential nutrients such as iron, iodine and Vitamin A.

Food security, Ilona said, was not only about food or agriculture, but about ensuring access to adequate and nutritious food for every household member. He said small businesses and entrepreneurs can help tilt food systems toward higher-quality diets, and could respond innovatively to nutrition targets and regulations.

According to Ilona, the private sector plays a role in improving the availability, affordability and the appeal of healthier foods to the population.

Country Director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Dr Michael Ojo, said vitamin and mineral deficiencies have  caused weakened immune systems and avoidable health outcomes, including blindness, stunted development or diarrheal and respiratory infections, and cognitive and physical stunting. He said the organisation was working on sustainable and scalable business models with local partners to improve livelihoods and food security.

According to him, GAIN provides holistic and innovative solutions for smallholder farmers in the developing world to enable them grow their farms into sustainable businesses.

By connecting global expertise with local insights and partners, and providing advanced agronomic solutions, he said GAIN aims to help farmers realise their potentials by farming not just to survive, but thrive as a business focused on sustainability.

National Directorate of Employment (NDE) Director–General, Dr. Nasiru Ladan Mohammed Argungu emphasised that ensuring agricultural development by enhancing food security, boosting agricultural productivity and reducing poverty was vital.

A clear insight from the fair, according to him, is to continue to encourage a new and inspiring environment for agri-food. He said NDE will work with HarvestPlus to promote bio-fortified food entrepreneurship.

A corporate participant at the fair, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), proved that it has maintained an excellent track record for its innovative mission towards ending poverty, hunger and malnutrition through improved food security and sustainable agriculture.

The institute presented several successful varieties. The innovations in them were based on the solid foundation of modern science combined with traditional breeding methods to create top performing products, offering optimal solutions.

Research Supervisor, Cassava Breeding Unit, IITA, Esezobor Solomon, said the global organisation is addressing the major challenges facing the agriculture sector through cassava varieties. He said the cassava unit has produced over 45 varieties with its first variety produced in 1976. Among other dominant crops bred and fortified are Maize, Banana/Plantain, Cowpea, Soybean and Yam.

During one of the sessions at the fair, Director, Health and Nutrition, Dangote Foundation, Dr Francis Aminu, stressed the importance of enhancing food value chain, noting that agriculture is vital in addressing malnutrition. He added that there should be emphasis on the practice of nutrition sensitive agriculture in order to encourage good nutrition practice.

Several presentations highlighted HarvestPlus and partners’ efforts to ensure that bio-fortification is implemented strategically and evaluated continuously. The fair incorporated plenaries, panel discussions and presentations through which participants discussed how best to scale up the delivery of nutritious crops and mainstream bio-fortification.

The fair, on the whole, was effective in demonstrating the value of diverse local food products within a single spot, and creating awareness and link among diverse groups of stakeholders and consumers.  Visitors were pleased to relish the fortified food, which indicated good prospect of  such  products in urban areas.

The food fair was also helpful in providing wider exposure to producers  outside Lagos as participants were highly motivated by realising the value and scope of fortified foods.

During the fair, youths from Federal College of Agriculture (FECA), Akure, Ondo State capital, participated  and displayed their products.

The Provost, Dr Samson Odedina, said students were exposed to modern and commercial farming practices, adding that the skills and experience gained will help them to upgrade their subsistence farming to commercial.

FECA, Odedina said, provided small-scale farmers and would-be investors the opportunity to participate in life-changing exposures and training programmes. He further added that many graduates have been leading various commercial agriculture ventures, while others are helping to transfer their skills and knowledge in their communities.

An exhibitor and Chief Executive, Benue Mario Foods, Mrs Martha Akoje said she has been producing fortified foods in Benue State. She said there was need to address the problem of malnutrition in Benue State, adding that she is using the opportunity to provide food products with micro-nutrients.

A HarvestPlus partner, Mr. Pelumi Aribisala, said his company produces bio-fortified crops. According to him, the company is engaging in production of Vitamin A cassava, maize and garri production. He said the company is producing odorless Fufu, custard and other products from Vitamin A cassava and maize.

Another exhibitor and representative of Nutureall Foods, Free Zone, Kano, Mr. Musa Danladi said the company is focused on improving the health and nutritional status of all, thereby breaking the vicious cycle of malnutrition that is prevalent in our communities.

According to him, the firm has manufactured Soy Kunu, a locally sourced and prepared blend, consisting of peanut, millet and soya beans for the children, adding that  producing local foods that will help mothers better nourish their children is an important step in the right direction against the scourge of malnutrition.

Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU) don and a cassava enterprise development specialist, Dr. Edna Akpan, said the fair provided an opportunity for partners to promote their businesses through the sale and distribution of pro Vitamin A food products. She said the level of adoption of Vitamin A cassava in was huge and demand high, creating opportunities for farmers and processors, who wanted added value to Vitamin A cassava. Since Harvest Plus started working on improving the cassava value chain for small-scale farmers in the state, Dr Akpan said their income and livelihood had improved as well as their knowledge of the market.

One of the exhibitors and HarvestPlus partner, Mrs Tola Adeyemo described the fair as promising. Participation, according to her, would enhance farming and crop protection practices. A successful bio-fortified food entrepreneur, Mrs Adeyemo, said she is ready to assist Nigerians to make a living through the sector.

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