Nigeria can attain food sufficiency within a short time if the federal and state governments partner with the private sector to enhance agricultural production, a Nutritionist, Mr Larry Umunna, has said.
Umanna, the Country Director of TechnoServe Nigeria Ltd., made the assertion in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ibadan.
The nutritionist, who spoke with NAN on the sidelines of the Alumni Day Lecture of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan on Tuesday, said such a partnership would boost agriculture in the country.
The lecture, with the theme, “Nutrition Is Indeed Central to Development’’, was organised by the Ibadan College of Medicine Alumni Association (ICOMAA) Worldwide.
NAN reports that TechnoServe, is a U.S. NGO that aims to proffer business solutions to the many challenges facing the food sector in Nigeria.
According to Umunna, the private sector plays important roles in the economic development of any nation and is the biggest employers of labour.
He said the private sector provided solid and sustainable access to nutritious foods as most goods and services that impact food security and nutrition typically involved it.
Umunna noted that the partnership would put the private sector at the centre to drive for improved food security and nutrition had become imperative to sustain good nutrition for the populace.
He advised the government to employ bio-fortification of foods to boost the country’s ailing nutrition level and recognise adequate market-based solutions to scale-up nutrition.
“Food companies can have a direct impact on nutrition through food fortification and promoting infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices and complementary feeding.
“Indirect pathways such as improving access to clean water and improved sanitation and hygiene can also impact on nutrition.
“Business knows how to change customer behavior; if we want to inform mothers and children about importance of nutrition, companies can offer best insights into promotion of the choices.
“The government should invest in nutrition as it makes sense from a market growth point of view because businesses are beginning to recognise the importance of improving the nutrition their workforces and community.
“The role of the private sector in making diverse nutritious foods available in the market place through products and services should not diminish,’’ Umunna told NAN.
“The Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Food Project (SAPFF), implemented by TechnoServe in Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania, is an example of a project that works with processors to produce and sell nutritious foods.
“The mandatory food fortification policy which was introduced in September 2002, aimed at ameliorating the vitamin and mineral deficiency (VMD) problem in Nigeria should be sustained.
“Its implementation commenced in 2003 with flours fortified with vitamins A and B and Iron, Folic Acid and Zinc to provide the 50 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance needed by deficient Nigerian population whose diets consisted of mainly staples.’’
Umunna, however, said that in spite of NAFDAC’s coordinating efforts of multi-sectorial stakeholders toward the realisation of this component of the national food and nutrition policy, there was still a low level of compliance by the food industries.
“Compliance study conducted by Bells University in 2012 and published by Ogunmoyela et al in the Nigerian Food Journal 2013, revealed a very sad picture.
“Only 16.7 per cent, 11.6 per cent and 2 per cent of sugar, vegetable oil and wheat flour respectively, met the minimum levels of fortification standards, while 28.6 per cent of flour met minimum levels for iron,’’ he said.
He decried the rate at which malnutrition was slowing down development in Nigeria, adding that its impact should not be ignored by government and stakeholders.
The nutritionist said that to bring malnutrition to a zero level in Nigeria had become a herculean task, but could still be realised before 2030.
According to him the high prevalence of unfortified foods in Nigeria presents opportunities to manufacturers to explore innovations in bio-fortification to boost nutrition.
He urged stakeholders from the academia and research institutes and development partners to actively collaborate in scaling-up innovative projects like bio-fortification of staple food crops such as cassava, maize and sweet potatoes.
The foods expert said that to move Nigeria a step ahead of malnutrition, the Federal Executive Council should include Nutrition as a standalone target for measuring its commitment to the SDGs and other global targets.
Umunna also advised the Federal Government to revisit the establishment of a “Food and Nutrition Commission’’.
“This commission should be in the Presidency and be tasked with the responsibility of coordinating nutrition activities across all sectors.
“Pending the establishment of the commission, the National Committee for Food and Nutrition, domiciled in the Ministry of National Planning should be elevated to a well-resourced, equipped and functional directorate.
“A joint enforcement regulatory framework signed and endorsed by leadership of NAFDAC, Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and Consumer Protection Council (CPC) will be a step in the right direction,’’ he said.
Umunna advised that Nigeria should begin to reposition nutrition as central to its development to maintain its position as the leading economy in Africa.
“The efforts being made by governments, donors, private sector and civil societies are not enough and impactful to stem the tide of malnutrition.
“With a burgeoning population, the time to invest in nutrition as a nation is now. It may be too late tomorrow,’’ he said.