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FOOD FORTIFICATION CHALLENGES: Rafsanjani, Ojo, Idaosa, Magaji, Uruakpa, others brainstorm for solution in Lagos

*Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe facilitates technical sessions as CISLAC, NESG, E-Africa meet again

*When there is strong nutrition the disease burden in the society will go down – Hon Amos Magaji

*Awareness needed on importance of food fortification, generating demand for fortified food products – Hon Dennis Idaosa

*Some industries cutting corners against monitoring and enforcement of compliance – Uruakpa

*Jaiyeola gives important step required to reduce malnutrition, wants underlying determinants including poverty, food insecurity addressed

*”If all food is fortified as they should, the system simply delivers the micronutrients!” – Ojo

By BASHIR ADEFAKA

 

“We need to work together to ensure that all mandatory food vehicles (local and imported) sold in Nigeria are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. We have a number of challenges to overcome, but I am confident that we can achieve this goal if we work together,” CISLAC ED, Auwal Ibrahim Musa a.k.a. Rafsanjani, charged participants at Lagos Interface Session.

 

A little above three months after the Thursday May 18, 2023 Media Roundtable on Promoting Food Fortification Compliance and Workforce Nutrition in Nigeria, the Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) held an Interface Session on Promoting Food Fortification Compliance and Workforce Nutrition on Wednesday August 30, 2023.

The meeting, which appeared more like a follow up to the recent, was attended by over 50 participants including representatives of regulatory agencies, legislators, nutritionists, large-scale food producers, civil society groups and journalists from various media outfits all gathered in the elegant Mariott Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos State capital, where they did an assessment of the progress so far, the challenges and came up with a communiqué detailing their observations and recommendations.

Themed, “Fortifying Nigeria’s Future: Interface Session with Stakeholders (State and Non-state actors) Towards Promoting Fortification Compliance and Workforce Nutrition”, the event was co-sponsored by CISLAC, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), and E-Health Africa, with Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), two members of the National Assembly – Hon Dennis Idahosa, Chairman Committee on Health Service and Hon Amos Magaji, Chairman House Committee on Health Institutions, as well as Mr. John Uruakpa, Director, Micro-nutrient Deficiency Control, Federal Ministry of Health, playing important roles.

With its technical sessions facilitated by Senator Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe, Health System Consultant and Immediate Past Chairman Senate Committee on Health, the Interface Session featured a welcome address by Executive Director of CISLAC, Mallam Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), followed by goodwill messages from NESG CEO, Mr. Laoye Jaiyeola, GAIN’ Country Director, Dr. Michael Ojo, House of Representatives Members Hon Dennis Idahosa and Amos Magaji, as well as Mr. John Uruakpa of the Federal Ministry of Health.

Presentations on the monitoring of compliance, status of food fortification and challenges encountered by regulators featured, as representatives of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) spoke at the session, with a major presentation on Data from other studies on status of fortification compliance presented, virtually by Programme Manager of E-Health Africa, Toju Ogele.

In his goodwill remarks, Hon Amos Magaji (Kaduna State), Chairman House Committee on Health Institutions, spoke to the issue of political will on food fortification and workforce nutrition policy enforcement and, to the extent, advocated for a legislation and tasked the authorities of the country on ensuring political will in all aspects of enforcement to make food fortification possible for the good health of the masses of the Nigerian people and development of national economy.

Talking about the issue of health, Magaji said, “When there is strong nutrition the disease burden in the society will go down. Issues of storage is another problem,” he said, citing storage by chemical based preservatives as one of the reasons for poisoned food that kill people en-masse.

He posited that what needs to be done is not just about fortifying the food but ensuring that the food items are safe for human consumption from the stage of storage.

Hon Dennis Idahosa (Edo State), Chairman House Committee on Health Services, In his own remarks, simply said that awareness needed to be raised on the importance of food fortification as a way to generating demand for fortified food products.

Idaosa said this while also explaining that the problem with achieving effective food fortification was not because the nation lacks a work-plan or law but that the country needed to strengthen the regulations for its enforcement.

Also speaking, Mr. John Uruakpa, Director, Micro-nutrient Deficiency Control, Federal Ministry of Health, who gave the well wishes from the Minister of Health and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, said food fortification is one of the most cost effective ways in ensuring good health but said Nigeria, having been involved in the programme for over 20 years, “shouldn’t be talking about compliance but about improvement on achievements on ground” at this time.

He said “some of the industries are cutting corners” against monitoring and enforcement of compliance, adding that “At the level of regulation, what the Federal Ministry of Health has found out is that there is compliance but when it gets to the market, there is problem.”

Asked during the “question and answer time” by The DEFENDER as to “why does our baby still crawls at over age of 20”, Uruakpa said, “It is why we are gathered here today to see how we; government, civil society, agencies and media organisations can work together to solve the problem”.

Sometimes, Mr Uruakpa had said, some of the nutrients in food are lost during processing thereby exonerating the government from most of the problem as it said it meant well. He then called on the stakeholders to see to the problem while much results are yet to be seen and work together to solve the problem. “Food fortification is one of the effective means of helping us but it is being sabotage,” the senior civil servant said.

Mr Laoye Jaiyeola, Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), also gave his remarks through his representative and NESG Director of Strategic Communication, Mr Olayinka Iyinokakan.

At the interface session, on Wednesday, Jaiyeola said, “One important step required to reduce malnutrition sustainably is the upscaling of nutrition-sensitive policies and programs that address the underlying determinants of malnutrition, including poverty, food insecurity, and lack of access to the components of healthy diets.

“Ultimately, these interventions should focus on Improving household access to and the intake of high-quality diets such as fortified food products, which can help improve their immune functions and cognitive skills,” he said.

In the remarks of Dr Michael Ojo, Country Director of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), he started by telling about what its organisation had done since it was founded 21 years ago, with the aim of tackling human suffering caused by malnutrition.

Noting that there is a comprehensive and mature national food fortification programme that is subscribed to by the private sector, largely understood by the population, with established regulatory structures and oversight with SON, NAFDAC and FCCPC, the GAIN’s Country Director, however, admitted existence of a gap.

And the gap he explained that, “The programme is not as effective as we would expect to be in delivering micronutrients to vilnebale populations. The good thing about LSFF, if done properly, is that people don’t even need to think about whether the food is fortified. These are foods that people commonly consume (wheat, maize, oil, salt, sugar, etc).  If all food is fortified as they should, the system simply delivers the micronutrients!”

Earlier in his welcome address, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mallam Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), like he said in May this year, started by calling attention of participants to the fact that Nigeria, as a nation, continues to face a serious nutrition crisis, which underscores the organisers’ intervention positing food fortification as a proven way to go in improving nutrition and health as well as the wealth of the nation.

“According to the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) 2022, 44.1% of children under the age of 5 in Nigeria are stunted, meaning they are too short for their age. This is a decrease from 46.0% in 2018, but it is still a high number. Stunting is a sign of chronic malnutrition and can have long-term consequences for health and development.

“The NDHS also found that 20.3% of children under the age of 5 in Nigeria are wasted, meaning they are too thin for their height. This is an increase from 19.9% in 2018. Wasting is a sign of acute malnutrition and can be a life-threatening condition.

“The NDHS also found that 18.7% of adults in Nigeria are overweight and 4.4% are obese. This is an increase from 17.4% and 3.4%, respectively, in 2018. Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer” but which can only be controlled with effective and sustainable food fortification compliance and workforce nutrition in Nigeria, Rafsanjaji said.

He made this position with a task challenging organisations concerned to take the issues of workforce nutrition more seriously to improve the productivity level of their employees by implementing relevant measures.

He then made a case for food fortification as the proven way forward because, according to him, “It is a simple, cost-effective intervention that can be used to add essential nutrients to foods that are commonly consumed by large populations.”

Defining food fortification as the process of adding essential vitamins and minerals to food vehicles to improve their nutritional content, Rafsanjani said, “This is an important public health intervention that can help to prevent malnutrition, which is a major problem in many countries, including Nigeria. In recognition of this important process, the government of Nigeria has taken key steps to ensure that certain food vehicles are fortified.

“The government of Nigeria developed regulations and mandatory food fortification policies in 2009 and 2019 respectively to promote food fortification which is being implemented by three (3) key agencies present here today (NAFDAC, FCCPC and SON).

“It is worthy to note that since the existence of the policy document, these agencies have been working within their mandates to implement the policy, and monitor compliance, with measure of progresses recorded as would be presented today.”

The fact that problem of malnutrition is still high made the interface session that happened at Ikeja on Wednesday imperative for the organisers and other participants to brainstorm on what next was needed to be done, despite the effort of government at achieving a well nourished population with its regulations and mandatory food fortification policies.

The CISLAC ED, Auwal Ibrahim Musa a.k.a. Rafsanjani, charged that, “We need to work together to ensure that all mandatory food vehicles (local and imported) sold in Nigeria are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. We have a number of challenges to overcome, but I am confident that we can achieve this goal if we work together.”

Communiqué

Aiming at identifying challenges, opportunities and make holistic recommendations to promote compliance to Food Fortification and Workforce nutrition in Nigeria, Wednesday Interface Session in Lagos, after brainstorming exhaustively on various thematic issues, ended with a communiqué jointly signed by Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), Executive Director of CISLAC/TI-Nigeria; Senator Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe, Health System Consultant; Hon. Amos Magaji, Chairman House Committee on Health Institutions; Hon. Idahosa Denis, Chairman House on Health Services; and Mr. John Uruakpa, Director, Micro-nutrient Deficiency Control, Federal Ministry of Health.

The communiqué listed out the nine observations and 11 recommendations on action that is required to be taken as agreed upon by all stakeholders present at the meeting.

Among observations listed, were that, “The unfavourable health indices necessitated by increasing rate of childhood and workplace malnutrition in Nigeria with devastating impact on health, productivity and economic development has called for a renewed strategy and sustainable system to integrate food fortification across production chains.

“As part of the proactive effort to encourage cost effective system to achieving quality food across production and consumption chains, the Nigerian Government promulgated Food Fortification Policy, hence the need to prioritise a strong legislation on Food Fortification backed by political will to ensure sustainable monitoring and compliance at all levels.”

And the recommendations include among others: “Creating massive public awareness to amplify the importance as well as health and socio-economic benefits of food fortification, taking into cognisance to education at individual levels on appriopriate food handling and storage to generate demand for fortified food products in Nigeria.

“Strengthening enforcement of food fortification through adequate resources for oversight institutions to increase surveillance and continuously monitor compliance and sanction non-compliance to food fortification across production, distribution and consumption chains, and

“Adequate incentives for manufacturers and businesses at all levels to encourage compliance to Food Fortification throughout the production chains.”

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