Major Food Fortification Advances Support Better Nutrition in Nigeria
Food fortification is one of the best ways to fight malnutrition at scale. This is particularly important in countries like Nigeria, which has the largest number of malnourished people in Africa. Recently, leaders from across Nigeria's public and private sector gathered virtually to highlight some rare progress in combating this problem: major improvements in the country's food fortification.
It’s one of the cruelest statistics — roughly 14,000 children under the age of five die every day, nearly half of them from causes related to malnutrition.
There is, fortunately, a very effective way to fight malnutrition at scale: by fortifying common foods like flour and oil with essential vitamins and minerals. But even though many governments officially require food processors to fortify their products, a lack of technical knowledge or economic incentive often leads them to fall short.
The problem is especially urgent in Nigeria, which has the largest number of malnourished people in Africa and the world’s second-highest number of malnourished children. This year, the situation is even worse, with the United Nations warning recently that parts of Nigeria were at imminent risk of famine.
Improving Nigerian Food Fortification
Last Thursday, leaders from across the country’s public and private sector gathered virtually to highlight some rare progress in combating this problem: major improvements in Nigeria’s food fortification.
Organized by TechnoServe and convened by Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Bill Gates, the third annual Nigeria Food Processing and Nutrition Leadership Forum highlighted the following achievements from the last three years:
- The supply of sugar fortified with vitamin A increased over 200%, expanding its availability from 31% of the Nigerian population to 96%
- The supply of wheat flour fortified with iron and folic acid increased by 68%, expanding its availability from 54% of the Nigerian population to 92%
- The supply of cooking oil fortified with vitamin A increased by 28%
- The availability of iodized salt was maintained at 95% of the Nigerian population
These increases mean that an additional 125.7 million more Nigerians will have access to fortified sugar; 73.5 million more will have access to fortified wheat flour; and 13.8 million more will have access to fortified edible oil. As a result, these millions of people will more regularly consume essential vitamins and minerals that will improve their overall nutrition and health.
“Better fortification leads to better nutrition — and better nutrition leads to a healthier, more productive, and more prosperous future for Nigeria’s people,” said Rizwan Yusufali, TechnoServe’s regional program director of the project Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF). Implemented by TechnoServe with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project took a business approach to improving fortification levels, working directly with Nigerian food processing companies to help them deliver on the standards set by the government.
TechnoServe is delighted to be a part of the work that’s produced such substantial results within a short timeline…This work aligns very closely with TechnoServe’s mission and approach of working with enterprising individuals and companies, recognizing the power of business to help secure social progress.”
— Will Warshauer, president and CEO, TechnoServe
“The impact of getting these essential micronutrients into the staple foods through fortification is one of the best investments in human development that I’ve ever seen,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, during the forum discussion. “It’s right up there with vaccination and other public health initiatives.”
Andreas Bluethner, the Gates Foundation’s director of nutrition, called the progress “remarkable, because you deliver on the promise that market-based, industry-led interventions like fortification can produce significant public health benefits.”
Alhaji Aliko Dangote, chairman of Alike Dangote Foundation and of the Dangote Group, a conglomerate that produces many staple foods, lauded the “commitment which has enabled the excellent results that we have seen so far,” and called for additional progress in the future.
Helping Companies Ensure Compliance with Fortification Standards
One of the tools that will help ensure continued compliance is Nigeria’s first-ever Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI). Developed by TechnoServe in partnership with the private sector, the MFI helps companies assess their compliance with fortification standards set by the Nigerian government. Companies’ scores are presented in a dashboard that is updated annually to show progress and gaps, and are part of an industry-wide platform that emphasizes quality standards.
“The private sector remains the engine of growth for the Nigerian economy,” said Aliko Dangote, Chairman of the Aliko Dangote Foundation. “By creating a common set of compliance standards, while also giving companies the tools they need to effectively fortify their foods, we are creating a sustainable path to delivering Nigerians food that will help them live healthier, more productive lives. Better nutrition for our consumers means better health and economic development for our nation.”
The impact of getting these essential micronutrients into the staple foods through fortification is one of the best investments in human development that I’ve ever seen. It’s right up there with vaccination and other public health initiatives.”
— Bill Gates, co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The SAPFF program initiated the annual forum events as part of an effort to encourage collective progress on fortification within Nigeria’s food processing industry. The events have provided a platform for the country’s food processing CEOs and other government and NGO leaders to shine a spotlight on the critical need for food fortification; share ideas and progress; and coordinate on future improvements.
While many participants noted that additional progress is still needed, they applauded the expanded access of fortified staple foods such as wheat flour and sugar to nearly the entire Nigerian population within just three years.
“I really am impressed with this progress,” remarked Bill Gates. “It’s not only come in a short amount of time, but during a time when there’s been a lot of distractions, and execution on many of these things is tougher than ever.”
William Warshauer, TechnoServe’s president and CEO, stated, “TechnoServe is delighted to be a part of the work that’s produced such substantial results within a short timeline…This work aligns very closely with TechnoServe’s mission and approach of working with enterprising individuals and companies, recognizing the power of business to help secure social progress.”