Nigeria makes significant progress in biofortifying staple foods

Significant progress has been made in fortifying Nigerian staple foods with micronutrients, critical for improving the population’s health and nutrition, according to data presented at the 2nd Annual Nigeria Food Processing and Leadership Forum.

 The meeting, chaired by Alhaji Aliko Dangote with Bill Gates participating by video conference, convened the CEOs of Nigeria’s leading food processing companies alongside government and international development leaders to review 18 months of progress since the inaugural forum in July 2018.

According to data presented by the international non-governmental organization TechnoServe, a number of companies have significantly improved their compliance with food fortification standards since commitments they made at last year’s forum.

Among six of the leading producers of staple foods in Nigeria, the proportion of adequately fortified wheat flour increased from 58 percent to 74 percent; fortified edible oil increased from 63 percent to 75 percent; fortified sugar increased from 32 percent to 84 percent; and salt iodization levels are maintained at nearly 100 percent.

Together, these producers account for 90 percent or more of the production volume of these foods-except for edible oil, for which they represent closer to 40 percent of the production volume.

These efforts are part of the Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF) project focused on increasing consumer access to adequately fortified foods, implemented by TechnoServe with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We are demonstrating that when companies champion their role in delivering healthy products for consumers, it also delivers good business outcomes,” said Alhaji Aliko Dangote, President of the Aliko Dangote Foundation. “By creating a common set of compliance standards, while also giving companies the tools they need to effectively fortify their foods, we are creating a sustainable path to delivering Nigerians food that will help them live healthier, more productive lives.”

While the progress is commendable, there’s still significant work needed to achieve project goals and maximize public health impact.

While the food producers reviewed represent a majority of the market share for wheat flour, salt and sugar, all producers of these staple foods should be in full compliance with government-mandated fortification levels-which is key to ensuring that all Nigerians benefit from more micronutrients in their diet.

 Local refining of edible oil in Nigeria is less consolidated compared to other staple food products and needs coordination amongst multiple stakeholders to ensure a higher proportion is fortified with vitamin A.

To strengthen industry-wide compliance, TechnoServe has been working with a number of private sector partners to pilot Nigeria’s first-ever Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI). The MFI is a tool that effectively differentiates companies by the extent to which they meet industry benchmarks, including compliance with Nigerian Fortification Standards. Companies’ overall scores will be presented in a dashboard that will be updated annually to show progress and gaps-ultimately contributing to a robust industry-wide platform that emphasizes quality standards as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

“The next level of action for the Flour Milling Association of Nigeria is that we envisage industry-wide application of the MFI and we believe that this will happen. It will give us greater leverage and provide us with a platform to make a case for increased advocacy to the relevant authorities to ensure that all inputs that go into the practice of fortification meet the required standards,” said Alhaji Olalekan Saliu, Executive Secretary of the Flour Milling Association of Nigeria.

The forum also reviewed progress on the Joint Regulatory Framework (JRF), which coordinates the enforcement of industry activities by the National Agency for Food & Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC). Following an inter-ministerial meeting in November, policy recommendations moving forward include advocating for increased national budgetary allocations towards nutrition and fortification, increased monitoring of imported fortificants and premixes, and establishing a collaborative border control mechanism that ensures edible oil imports are recorded and conform to Nigerian Standards.

“Malnutrition doesn’t just kill more than 2 million kids each year, it also stunts the cognitive development of millions more,” said Bill Gates, co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “That’s why I’m inspired by the work that’s happening in Nigeria. By fortifying staple foods, the country is making sure that an entire generation of children survive and grow up to meet their full potential.”

Worldwide, more than 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient malnutrition-deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals that are integral to healthy growth and development. Fortifying staple foods-such as oil, flour, salt and sugar-with vitamins and minerals has been proven to be one of the most cost-effective and scalable tools to combat malnutrition and save lives.

One out of three Nigerian children under five are stunted-their bodies and brains deprived of the key nutrients they need to fully develop to reach their full potential. Over the long-term, stunting results in a  10 to 17 percent loss of wages. When multiplied across the nation, it’s estimated that Nigeria loses more than US$1.5 billion in GDP annually as a result of diminished productivity and increased healthcare costs.

“Nigeria will be the world’s third largest country by 2050. If we don’t address it now, poor nutrition threatens to hinder our ability to prosper and play a leading role in the global economy,” said Larry Umunna, West Africa Regional Director, TechnoServe.

Just this year, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 50 studies found that large-scale fortification programs in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) have led to dramatic reductions in serious disease in those countries, helping to achieve a 34% reduction in anemia from improved iron stores; a 74% reduction in the odds of goitre and a significant reduction in iodine deficiency; a 41% decrease in the odds of neural tube defects due to reductions of folate deficiency among women of reproductive age; and an approximate reduction in vitamin A deficiency (VAD) for three million children (0-9 years) in just one year, significantly reducing their risk of mortality.

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