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Nigerian processing companies to fortify staple foods with essential micronutrients

By Adeyemi Adepetun
05 December 2020   |   2:54 am
Following three years of leadership engagement by the Federal Government (FG) and Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the nation’s largest food processing companies, significant progress

Following three years of leadership engagement by the Federal Government (FG) and Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the nation’s largest food processing companies, significant progress has been made in fortifying Nigerian staple foods with micronutrients that are essential to achieving better health and nutrition for all.

The data were presented yesterday at the 3rd yearly Nigeria Food Processing and Leadership Forum, which was chaired by Alhaji Aliko Dangote with Bill Gates participating by videoconference.

According to data presented by an international non-governmental organization, TechnoServe, companies have significantly improved their compliance with food fortification standards in the span of three years.

TechnoServe observed that together, these producers reach more than 90 percent of the Nigerian population. According to it, from 2017 to 2020, the population reached with wheat flour fortified with iron and folic acid increased from 54 per cent to 92 per cent; the population reached with sugar fortified with Vitamin A increased from 31 per cent to 96per cent, and salt iodization levels were maintained at 95 per cent.

Speaking, Chairman of the Aliko Dangote Foundation, Aliko Dangote, said the private sector remained the engine of growth for the Nigerian economy.

“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 to Nigerians food that will help them live healthier, more productive lives. Better nutrition for our consumers means better health and economic development for our nation,” Dangote stated.

The forum noted that edible oil fortified with Vitamin A also made progress, but to a lesser degree, with the population reached with fortified cooking oil increasing from 25 per cent to 32 per cent. Unlike the other staples, the forum noted, however, that the edible oil companies participating in the CEO forum represent closer to 40 percent of the nation’s total production volume.

To put the scale of these achievements in perspective, the forum said an additional125.7 million Nigerians now have access to sugar fortified with vitamin A; an additional 73.5 million have access to wheat flour fortified with iron and folic acid, and an additional 13.8 million have access to cooking oil fortified with vitamin A.

To the Minister of Industry, Trade & Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, “Given the impacts of Covid-19 on our economy, I am particularly impressed with the leadership we have seen from our food companies.

“Our industry leaders have shown that even during an international public health crisis and an economic crisis, we can still deliver good nutrition for all citizens, including our poorest, through production and distribution of widely consumed fortified staple foods.”

Further, the forum revealed that the 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.

According to the CEO Forum, significant work remains to achieve project goals and maximize public health impact. Of particular emphasis is working to sustain progress and to ensure that fortified cooking oil achieves similar success.

Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, “Vitamin A is one of the most critical nutrients kids need to grow up healthy—but too few kids receive a sufficient amount in their diet.

“The world needs to fortify more foods with Vitamin A. The leaders in this meeting have already shown what’s possible for wheat flour, salt, and sugar. I hope that by the next time we meet, cooking oil will be added to the list.”

The forum revealed that one reason for the slower progress is that the edible oil industry is less centralized than other staple foods, requiring coordination across more stakeholders.

But, it noted that TechnoServe would be working on further technical assistance to oil millers who want to participate in the multi-stakeholder effort.

In addition, TechnoServe will support relevant government agencies to improve its efforts on regular testing of imported edible oil at the ports of entry.

To strengthen industry-wide compliance, Techno Serve has been working with private sector partners to launch Nigeria’s first-ever Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI). The MFI helps companies assess compliance with Nigerian Fortification Standards. Companies’ overall scores are presented in a dashboard that is updated annually to show progress and gaps, contributing to an industry-wide platform that emphasizes quality standards.

The forum also reviewed progress on the development of the Joint Regulatory Framework (JRF), which would coordinate 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).

According to it, 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 per cent loss of wages. When multiplied across the nation, it’s estimated that Nigeria loses more than $1.5billion in GDP yearly as a result of diminished productivity and increased healthcare costs.

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