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Understanding Nigeria’s new Micronutrient Fortification Index

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The Cost of Malnutrition. THE GLOBAL PANEL ON AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SYSTEMS FOR NUTRITION, 2016

The world is awash in information—so much so that we often need some help to sort through it all. An index is one of the most powerful tools we have to make sense of complex sets of data.

Take the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) Index, for example: it allows us to view the buoyancy in the Nigerian economy, identify perceived inflation or a ‘bubble’ that is unsustainable in view of other market fundamentals, and also gauge the relative performance of a business compared to others in its sector or the economy as a whole.

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In all of these instances, the key benefit of an index is the ease of access to that information, which ultimately enables wider participation and interpretation in the marketplace.

But what would it look like if we applied this idea to improving nutrition and food quality in Nigeria? That’s the concept behind the Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI), which uses large and diverse sets of data about food fortification to provide simple, easy-to-understand performance indicators of specific brands and the food sector as a whole.

What is the MFI?
The MFI is an industry-led initiative that seeks to simplify complex quality parameters on the efficacy and consistency of compliance with mandatory food fortification standards by participating processors of wheat flour, salt, sugar and edible oil in Nigeria. The MFI’s web portal features a simple ranked list of companies and their performance against fortification standards and industry quality benchmarks, providing transparent information to consumers, policymakers, and other stakeholders. It represents part of a broader strategy to digitize quality-assurance practices and strengthen industry ownership of food fortification.

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That is urgently needed. Figures from the National Demographic Health Survey conducted in 2018 show that Nigeria lags behind its peers, with a concerning proportion of its population malnourished or undernourished. Interest in food fortification to address the malnutrition crisis has increased greatly over the past two decades, mainly driven by the realization that micronutrient deficiencies contribute substantially to the global burden of disease and impedes national economic growth. In 2002, the Nigerian government mandated the fortification of flour, oil, maize, semolina and sugar, but compliance levels have generally tended to be significantly below the legal requirements.

Working to boost private-sector engagement on the issue, TechnoServe’s Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF) Program convened leading industry executives and key government officials during the 2018 CEO Forum, where the stakeholders supported the idea of a self-regulatory index. The SAPFF program and leading food processing companies then designed and piloted the resulting MFI.

As stated by the Vice President of Nigeria, His Excellency Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, “The use of this tool should be adopted by all companies involved in fortification and I believe it should be made available to stakeholders and shareholders alike.”

The MFI’s Benefits for You
Food Processors: For companies that process and distribute products that must be fortified, the index serves as a tool for leveling the playing field. It incentivizes non-compliant firms to participate in regulatory fortification, putting them at par with those who are found to be compliant. It is a mark of quality to the market which that will influence the purchasing patterns of consumers who become more discerning and show a preference for products that meet quality and fortification standards.

The adoption of MFI quality-governance systems significantly reduces the risk of quality failures—which have a major cost—and drives innovation and waste reduction that improve commercial and bottom-lines. The MFI will reward incremental improvements and provide opportunities for deserving processors to receive awards, recognizing progress along the steps and innovations in quality management.

Regulators and Policymakers: The MFI represents a paradigm shift in the treatment of food fortification from one based on the enforcement of a sanctions regime to one where the objectives are enhanced through a more co-operative approach. Regulators benefit from adopting a risk-based approach enabling them to focus their modest resources and attention on non-compliant firms, whilst also taking a role in recognizing and validating the MFI brand. Subsequent analysis of industry-wide trends can also contribute to the development of effective policies geared towards enhancing the enabling environment for staple food producers.

Consumers and Advocacy Groups: As with processors, we expect that as consumer awareness expands, the MFI will become a trusted mark of quality, driving improvements that benefit consumers.

In addition to the specific value propositions to each stakeholder group, there are others, as in the table below, that cut across them all, such as the socioeconomic gains from improved national nutrition.

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Research published by the Global Panel On Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition suggests that Nigeria would gain more than $1 billion USD in additional GDP annually if it accelerated investments to meet World Health Assembly’s 2025 target for stunting. Micronutrient fortification is a vital part of reaching that target, and the MFI is an important step in encouraging adoption across Nigeria’s food industry.

The MFI will officially launch on September 16, 2021 at a hybrid in-person and virtual event.

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