NIGERIA – The Federal Government of Nigeria has included rice on the list of foods that must be fortified with micronutrients to boost nutritional value derived from the staple food and reduce the rate of hidden hunger in the country.
This was made known by Mr John Uruakpa, Deputy Director and Head of the MicroNutrition Deficiency Unit, Federal Ministry of Health, at the launch of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Large-Scale Food Fortification (LSFF) Strategy.
UNICEF estimates that two million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition, along with 7% of women of childbearing age.
Nigeria also loses an estimated US$1.5 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually due to diminished productivity and increased health care costs caused by malnutrition.
Fortifying staple foods with essential vitamins and minerals is one of the most effective ways of improving a population’s nutrition.
In the country, fortification of wheat flour, maize flour, vegetable oil, margarine, salt, and sugar has been mandatory for over 10 years.
Despite the presence of the regulations, many companies in the country are challenged with the implementation of these standards.
“This has slowed the contributions of food fortification to fighting Nigeria’s high levels of micronutrient deficiencies, which include life-threatening deficiencies in iron, vitamin A, zinc, folic acid, and iodine,” said Mr Uruakpa.
To this end the federal government and international organizations have partnered to bring solutions that will secure nutrients in foods to improve health, resilience and productivity.
SAPFF program comes to a close
In 2018, TechnoServe joined BMGF to address this issue through its work with Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), a non-profit organization that links the technical and business expertise of volunteer employees from General Mills, Cargill, Royal DSM, Bühler, Ardent Mills, and The Hershey Company.
Understanding the business needs of the Nigerian companies producing the fortified foods, TechnoServe set to work on a private sector approach to supporting their fortification efforts.
In addition to tailored technical guidance on fortification, TechnoServe promoted an industry-wide effort to improve fortification practices, drawing company executives together along with Nigerian government leaders under the four-year US$10 million initiative known as Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF).
The annual leadership events provided an opportunity for cross-sector collaboration on national fortification efforts, and are expected to continue despite the fact that this year marked the last Forum under the auspices of the SAPFF program.
Digitization of fortification compliance
To further encourage self-sustaining progress on companies’ food fortification, TechnoServe developed the Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI), an online tool that allows food processing companies to publicly report and track levels of staple food fortification, in addition to other quality system metrics.
This is the first-ever platform to provide a transparent way to measure and incentivize industry-wide progress on fortification.
MFI findings and project data were front and center at the Forum, showed significant progress in the fortification of staple foods, demonstrating sustained fortification compliance for some key micronutrients while showing a decline for others.
For instances, compliance levels for fortified salt were sustained at more than 90%, for fortified edible oil increased from 25% in 2018 to 49% in 2021 and wheat flour rose from 56% in 2018 to 64% in 2021.
The exception to these promising increases was the sugar sector, which had improved fortification levels to 94% in 2020, only to experience significant COVID-related supply challenges. This caused fortification compliance to dip to 26% from 31% in 2018.
Similarly, wheat flour compliance levels had reached 93% before the COVID-19 pandemic, showing the potential of Nigeria’s food industry to achieve significant results in fortification.
“At the start of this project in 2018, we only had four [edible] oil refineries compliant, and now 11 industrialized refineries, which are 40% of the market, are fortifying fully to the standards.
“Our partner, TechnoServe, is doing a great job working with the organizations and coming up with this new index,” said Bill Gates of BMGF
TechnoServe SAPFF Director Dominic Schofield expressed optimism that pre-pandemic compliance levels would return, “with the promise of renewed focus; with opportunities to innovate in business processes and digitalization that better integrate food fortification and foster trust, and with the commitment and collective action on the part of all food fortification stakeholders.”
Although this project has reached its end, it’s clear that progress has been made due to the collaboration of its participants.
In addressing the business leaders present at the Forum, Alhaji Aliko Dangote said, “I’m happy to see that together we are demonstrating that when companies champion their role in delivering healthy food for consumers, this also delivers good business outcomes.”
TechnoServe President and CEO William Warshauer says the 14 companies representing 31 brands that have joined the MFI recognize the social value of helping Nigeria’s next generations grow up strong and healthy.