Addressing Malnutrition through Micronutrient Fortification in Nigeria

Discover the importance of micronutrient fortification in Nigeria and how TechnoServe is working to combat malnutrition and promote food security through the Micronutrient Fortification Index.

grains and rice

The Challenge of Malnutrition in Nigeria: Statistics and Impact

Almost nowhere are the human and economic costs of malnutrition more stark than in Nigeria. The country has the second-highest number of malnourished children in the world. Fifteen million children under the age of five are stunted, and 30 million are anemic, according to figures from UNICEF. Seven percent of women of childbearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition. In addition, Nigeria loses an estimated $1.5 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually due to diminished productivity and increased health care costs caused by malnutrition. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, conflict in Ukraine, and severe climatic events have also raised the cost of nutritious food, making more people vulnerable to malnutrition. 

Over a year after the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine affected agricultural commodity markets, food prices remain elevated following their record highs in early 2022. With two of the world’s largest exporters of wheat now in a second year of war, many countries continue to face food insecurity.

But there are solutions, which can alleviate the burden on hardworking men, women, and families. Fortifying staple foods with essential vitamins and minerals, for instance, is one of the most effective ways of improving a population’s nutrition. 

Despite the existence of food fortification regulations in Nigeria, the implementation of these standards remains a significant challenge for many companies.

Fortifying Staple Foods as a Solution to Malnutrition

In 2018, TechnoServe with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), commenced a Large Scale Food Fortification (LSFF) program, 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 sustainable private sector approach to supporting their fortification efforts. In addition to tailored technical guidance on fortification, TechnoServe promoted an industry-wide effort to improve quality fortification practices and systems, drawing company executives together along with Nigerian government leaders.

Introducing the Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI)

The annual leadership events provided an opportunity for cross-sector collaboration on national fortification initiatives, and have been critical in providing a platform that facilitates ongoing dialogue and performance reporting against collective commitments.

The Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI) developed by TechnoServe is a platform that enables food processing companies to publicly disclose and monitor their staple food fortification levels along with other quality system metrics. This groundbreaking platform is the first of its kind to offer a transparent and incentivized method to measure industry-wide progress on fortification.

How the MFI Approach Works: The 4PG Framework and Self-Assessment Tool

The MFI approach links concepts of quality management already deployed by food processors with a market systems approach

The 4PG, the MFI’s central framework, links market systems thinking to the idea that fortification is a key qualitative mission for food processors. The MFI scoring components , primarily the Self-Assessment Tool (SAT), are built on the 4PG framework.

The independently validated SAT is used so that each participating company manages and updates at least once a year during annual MFI cycles. It also enables participating companies to assess and evaluate elements of their quality management systems, values, and governance as they relate to micronutrient fortification practice under the five broad indicators of the 4PG framework. Periodic independent testing of participating companies’ products is carried out to assess their performance against the required compliance range. And the Industry Expert Group (IEG) holds sessions to form a moderated opinion of each participating company based on their overall market intelligence, as well as specific knowledge of the industry involved. 

Learn more about the MFI’s approach and key elements.

Results and Impact of the MFI Pilot in Nigeria

The MFI started with a pilot consisting of well-known brands of four companies. Since then, participation has expanded to 14 companies, representing 31 brands, which have completed the first entire ranking cycle. The publicly listed brands on the Index now cover approximately 80% of the flour milling market, 40% of the edible oils market, and 88% of the sugar market in Nigeria, reaching over an estimated 134 million people in the country in 2022. 

In March 2022, the Annual Nigeria Food Processing and Leadership Forum, co-convened by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Aliko Dangote Foundation and with the attendance of the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, gave these companies a public forum in which their MFI rankings were recognized. Executives from the MFI’s top-ranking companies received awards, from the respective Ministers of the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Investment and Ministry of Health, for their companies’ progress on food fortification. 

“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 last year’s leadership forum.

The MFI as a Tool for Industry-Wide Progress and Collaboration

The continued commitment of the existing and new companies in this cycle to the index is underpinned by the competitive nature of the mechanism itself. Over the last year, the program has observed an increased drive of participating brands/companies towards the top position. Additionally, leveraging high-profile convenings such as the CEO Forum in the past has led to increased exposure for the MFI initiative in a way that no company wants to be left behind.

The MFI team in Nigeria sustained this level of accountability through consistent communication at a group level as well as through one-on-one engagements. This included outreach through emails and calls that were targeted at company staff at different management levels, which further reinforced organizational ownership. This encouraged existing members to see the value in continuing their participation on the index. The team recorded a number of companies opting for more rigorous versions of the SAT, which symbolizes a growing ambition to hold themselves to even higher standards.

Intensifying collaboration efforts by collectively reviewing the efficacy of the index has also served members well in ensuring that the MFI’s methodology is grounded in quality benchmarks that will evolve over time. This was facilitated by conducting a validation exercise in the middle of the calendar year to rally key stakeholders around the tool’s utility and functionality as a way to increase their confidence in the consultative process while strengthening their commitment to continually invest in the mechanism.

To support the program’s objective of offering data driven insights for continuous improvement, the team has also periodically shared results from product quality analysis with company executives which either validates their adoption of good fortification practices or informs corrective action at an operational level.

Recognition and Awards for Top-Ranking Companies on the MFI

Nigeria’s next MFI awards ceremony will take place on March 28 of this year at the Agrofood exhibition and summit in Lagos, Nigeria. The awards will recognize all the participating companies demonstrating the significant commitments to social impact of leading food companies while celebrating the top five performers by participating fortified food brands.

Joining the Fight Against Malnutrition and Hunger with Food Fortification

Particularly when food is scarce, increasing the nutritional value of products accessible by consumers is essential to keep people healthy and significantly contributes to their ability to live more productive lives. Large-Scale Food Fortification (LSFF) — the process of adding micronutrients to widely consumed staple food — is one of the most proven and effective ways of  improving health, wellbeing, and quality of life. Positive outcomes like these uplift every member of vulnerable communities grappling with malnutrition around the globe.

Food processors play a critical role in the food supply chain and are the local businesses at the heart of communities. Through tools like the MFI, TechnoServe is addressing chronic malnutrition through food fortification of staples. 

TechnoServe is a powerful force in promoting economic growth and poverty reduction in developing countries. By providing business training, access to markets, and other forms of support to entrepreneurs, TechnoServe helps local communities build sustainable livelihoods and improve their standards of living. As individuals and organizations interested in global development, we can support TechnoServe’s efforts by donating to the organization, volunteering our time, or spreading awareness about their work. Together, we can help create a more prosperous and equitable world.

Please join us as we fight to reduce hunger and increase food security in Nigeria and around the world.