By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, GAIN has called on the federal government of Nigeria to focus on promoting healthier food systems and nutrition as a means to combating the current challenges of food insecurity and inflation challenging the Nigerian economy.
The Executive Director of GAIN, Lawrence Haddad stated that the government can reduce malnutrition through improved health and food systems, and noted that obesity, hypertension, and anaemia were all manifestations of malnutrition.
The ED who spoke at an interactive breakfast Round-table with the National Food and Nutrition Media Team in Abuja today said “Malnutrition is driven, by not having enough food, not having the right food and also eating too much of the wrong food (junk, too much-added salt or added sugar) etc stressed the need for healthy food systems
Restating the commitment of the Alliance to improve the access of 1.5 billion people to nutritionally enhanced staple foods, improve the access of 25 million people to healthier diets, and support positive food system change in 10 countries the executive director also informed that in Nigeria, GAIN had effectively fortified five foods including Maize, wheat, edible oils, sugar and salt and rice given how much of it is being consumed in the country.
According to Haddad “Government can enhance nutrition through market space, schools and safety programmes and in times of crisis, get vitamins and minerals to people in foods they can afford and are already eating. Fortify those foods by adding vitamins and minerals” he added
He posited that while the Nigerian government may not have exploited all of the opportunities towards Nutritious Foods, he said “They can do so by ensuring robust and resilient food systems, ensuring that SMEs/small business and farmers have access to finance, technical assistance on the business and the nutritions side and to also ensure that food markets are safe and clean and also ensure that the market itself is built of solid materials”.
“We have done a lot in Nigeria to reduce food loss through very simple methods. We did some work with tomatoes where instead of using fibre base or the raffia baskets for packaging we use recyclable plastics, this is because the latter do not protect the tomatoes leading to losses as high as 30-40%”
Noting that GAIN is one of the only organizations that links nutrition to food systems as most organizations work on food systems that focus on different things such as climate, livelihoods, resilience or environmental outcomes, he said “We are focused on nutritional diet outcomes but we are also worried about those other things.
“Contextually, in enhancing nutrition, we do not do only one system, but multiple as context drives the portfolio of solutions. He noted that while there are hundreds of things to do to improve the supply of nutritious food, we must not obsess about any one thing as the context drives the solution”
The Executive Director urged the media to not only simplify food systems for the masses but become critical friends to the government and be solution-oriented in promoting Nutritious food systems”
GAIN Nigeria, Country Director. Michael Ojo while noting that Nigerian smallholder farmers make up over 80% of the nation’s farming population stressed that it is important that they focus on things natural to their environment rather than the large-scale technologies prone to more advanced techs
“There are opportunities we should exploit but it is going to be a combination of solutions to help us address the problems which we have in Nigeria which is food insecurity, malnutrition insecurity are significant challenges which the food systems if transformed effectively can help us,” he said
“We have been working with partners on commercializing bio-fortified crops, where the nutrients are bred into such staples through the conventional means. The process which has taken them over twenty years has seen them infusing Vitamin A in maize, cassava and Potatoes after harvest and process in consumers.
He noted that the focus of GAINS programmes is on transforming food systems so that they deliver better diets for everyone through Food Fortification, Nutrition Enterprise Unit, Drivers of Food System Change, Policy & Governance and Outcomes
In her remarks, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Joyce Akpata stated that scaling will be effective if we can connect the programmes to policy, and partners, through the marketplace.
She added “If effective policies are put in place and cascaded to state levels then we will be able to ensure that we have an impact”