By Oluwafunke Ishola
Lagos, Dec. 3, 2020 Chief Executive Officers of major food processing companies have pledged to enhance food fortification compliance of staple foods in Nigeria to 100 per cent by 2021.
The business leaders made the disclosure during the 2020 CEO Forum Press Briefing on Large Scale Food Fortification held virtually on Thursday.
They noted that following three years of engagement of the CEOs and the Federal Government, significant progress had been made fortifying staple foods with micronutrients that were essential to achieving better health and nutrition for all.
Naija247news reports that the effort was part of the Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF) project, focused on increasing consumer access to adequately fortified foods.
The project was implemented by TechnoServe with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Chairman, Aliko Dangote Foundation, said that companies have significantly improved their compliance with food fortification standards in the last three years.
“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 96 percent; and salt iodization levels were maintained at 95 perc cent.
“Our new target is to reach 100 per cent in 2021. We are all committed and everyone is interested in pushing the marks up.
“The private sector remains 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 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,” he said.
Dangote, however, 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.
He attributed the slower progress in the edible oil industry to lack of coordination among operators in the sub sector, adding that efforts were ongoing to centralise activities toward boosting their achievements.
Also, Mr John Coumantaros, Chairman, Flour Mills Nigeria, said that the progress made in the fortification of the staple foods had been remarkable.
He noted that the progress would be sustained and would go a long way in ensuring food security in Nigeria.
Commenting, Mr Bill Gates, Co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said that Vitamin A was one of the most critical nutrients children need to grow up healthy, adding that 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,” he said.
Also, Mr Larry Umunna, West Africa Regional Director, Technoserve, said that the organisation had been working with private sector partners to launch Nigeria’s first-ever Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI) to strengthen industry-wide compliance.
Umunna said that the MFI helps companies assess compliance with Nigerian Fortification Standards.
He noted that companies’ overall scores were presented in a dashboard that was updated annually to show progress and gaps, contributing to an industry-wide platform that emphasises quality standards.
“To put the scale of these achievements in perspective, an additional 125.7 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,” he said.
According to him, 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.
He said that 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 $1.5 billion in GDP annually as a result of diminished productivity and increased healthcare costs.
“If Nigeria is really serious about creating jobs, expanding its markets and growing its economy, nutrition and food systems should be put in the centre of the conversation,” said Umunna.
Commenting, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, Minister of Industry, Trade & Investment, said, “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.”