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Posted Mon, Jun 26, 2023 7:56 AM

NESG Holds Webinar on Developing an Integrated Food Fortification Compliance Framework to Address Micronutrient Deficiencies

On Friday, 23rd of June, 2023, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), in collaboration with eHealth Africa and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), held a webinar with the theme "Developing an Integrated Food Fortification Compliance Framework to address Micronutrient Deficiencies."

While delivering the welcome statement, the CEO of the NESG, Mr Laoye Jaiyeola, said that malnutrition deficiencies are of great concern to the NESG, with 20.5 million new babies and 14.6% having low weight at birth and one out of five children experiencing stunted growth. Furthermore, Mr Jaiyeola revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the economic vulnerabilities of African countries as 155 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty globally. "In Nigeria and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, micronutrient deficiencies are common among the people due to over-farmed, depleted and nutrient-lacking soils, low nitrogen in most African soils, high soil acidity, infestation of crops by pests and diseases, and the adverse effects of climate change, "he stated. The CEO of the NESG reiterated the need for stakeholders to continually ramp up food fortification to ensure that people don't just eat but eat well in a way that reduces micronutrient deficiencies.

During the panel session, Senior Technical Specialist for Quality and Safety, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Mr David Morgan, stated that micronutrient deficiency in Nigeria is significant and the national food consumption survey shows there is a massive burden of waste in children in Nigeria, with vitamin A deficiency and anaemia being more prevalent among children. More so, Mr Morgan noted that some of the challenges related to food fortification compliance include an absence of clear communication of requirements from regulators for smaller industries, the cost of food fortification, monitoring of production and access to trusted, reliable and affordable testing for regulators and producers. He noted that dialogue and improved communication are straightforward ways to improve Nigeria's food fortification systems.

The deputy director of scientific and head of business development at the Institute of public analysts of Nigeria, Dr Adeyemi Opeoluwa, in his remarks, said that there is a need to tackle poverty to improve the country's microeconomic indices, noting the need for support and collaboration between government, the private sector and institutes to improve on these indices. He further encouraged all stakeholders to consider Nigeria's political and cultural dimensions when enacting policies.

Furthermore, the founding director of Praisegate Services and Consult, Dr Victor Ajieroh, stated that with a population of 200 million, with conservative estimates, 100 million people can have access to fortified foods through oil, salt, sugar and other food vehicles. He noted that by ensuring more people have access to fortified foods, the health of the nation will improve. Dr Ajieroh reiterated the importance of the private sector in ensuring that their products conform with government-set fortification standards, noting that food brands should embody values and aspirations that inspire change. 

Dr Ajieroh also stated the need for philanthropists to do more to reach the rural areas and to continually meet government standards by helping to create an atmosphere of collaboration and positive conversations from policy, infrastructure and trade points of view that can help address the issues of micronutrient deficiencies in Nigeria. He further stated the importance of governance and digital and retail innovation in curbing the challenges associated with food fortification compliance through innovative procurement mechanisms to solve supply chain problems and improve Nigeria's food fortification ecosystem.

The Executive Director of CISLAC, Mr Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, who Mr Muritala Muhammed represented, stated that poverty is deep-rooted in the country and irrespective of the quantity of food, if the proper nutrients are not consumed, the problems of malnutrition will persist. He noted that sensitization and awareness creation is important, including effective collaborations between all stakeholders to ensure that malnutrition is effectively tackled.

A Food Safety, Nutrition and Standards Development Expert, Dr Mrs Omolara Okunlola, said that for large-scale food fortification, kudos must be given to large-scale manufacturers for embracing collaboration and self-regulations embedded in the National Fortification Alliance. She noted that manufacturers have a high level of compliance due to the pyramid of monitoring conducted by different government agencies. She reiterated the importance of nutrition labelling, noting that manufacturers need to do more in educating the populace on the importance and benefits of fortified foods. 

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