Although spoken beneath a face mask, the speaker’s words resonated throughout the room full of government leaders and food industry CEOs:
“An estimated 361,000 Nigerian children are lost annually from diseases exacerbated by malnutrition and related conditions,” said Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Hon. Minister of the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria. “One out of three Nigerian children under five is stunted,” he continued. “Their body and brain are deprived of the key nutrients needed to fully develop their full potential.”
Dr. Ehanire was speaking at the Fourth Annual Nigeria Food Processing and Leadership Forum, held in Lagos on March 10, 2022. Established as part of a four-year, $10 million initiative known as Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF), these events have served as a critical platform for cross-sector engagement on improving Nigeria’s food fortification and national nutrition.
This year marked the last Forum under the auspices of the SAPFF program, and highlighted
- Compliance levels for fortified salt were sustained at more than 90%
- Compliance levels for fortified edible oil increased from 25% in 2018 to 49% in 2021
- Compliance levels for fortified wheat flour increased 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.
A Business Solution to Nutrition Challenges
Today, 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 $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. However, while Nigeria has food fortification regulations, many companies are challenged with the implementation of these standards.
In 2018, TechnoServe joined with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to address this issue through its work with Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) – a nonprofit 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.
The annual leadership events provided an opportunity for cross-sector collaboration on national fortification efforts, and are expected to continue after the project’s close.
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.
A Partnership to Impact Generations
“Better nutrition for our consumers means better health and economic development for our nation,” said Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Chairman of the Aliko Dangote Foundation, at this year’s leadership forum.
Among other dignitaries in the room were leaders from food processors making up more than 90% of the Nigerian market for salt, wheat flour, and sugar.
Data presented 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. The decreases were largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its correlating supply chain issues.
“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,” said Bill Gates of BMGF, who participated in the event by video conference. “Our partner, TechnoServe, is doing a great job working with the organizations and coming up with this new index.”
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.”
While the MFI findings and project data were front and center at the Forum, the impact these numbers will have on Nigeria’s future, including its youth, was a common theme throughout the event.
“The pandemic reminds us that health is not to be taken for granted and yet it’s really the kids growing up healthy that are the future of the country,” said Bill Gates.
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. “[They] are leading the charge for a better, more nutritious future for Nigeria.”