Stakeholders advocate multisectoral engagement to tackle malnutrition, boost economy
To reverse the trend of Nigeria’s declining economy, engage the teeming unemployed youth population, and tackle malnutrition, government and private sector stakeholders in the health, agriculture, and beverage sectors must encourage and take part in the local production of more nutritious foods.
This was according to experts, including researchers, policy and decision makers, food processors, development workers, civil society organization (CSOs), community based organizations (CBOs), among others, at the second edition of the Nutritious Food Fair (NFF) 2016 with the theme Multisectoral partnerships to promote more nutritious crops and foods. The Fair was organized by HarvestPlus, IITA’s sister center, to engage stakeholders in the health, education, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors on issues on and around the production and consumption of more nutritious foods in Nigeria. The event was held at the Calabar International Convention Center (CICC), Calabar, Cross River State.
In his address, Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said that the link between nutrition and agriculture needed to be strengthened to ensure that Nigerians consumed more nutritious foods, noting that the Fair would stimulate conversations and strategic alliances to overcome malnutrition and grow the country’s food basket.
The Minister, represented by Winifred Ochimabo, commended HarvestPlus for hosting the Fair, assuring them that he was fully committed to supporting policies and initiatives that promote the production of more nutritious crops.
“I commend HarvestPlus for this event. I congratulate former HarvestPlus Director Howarth Bouis on winning the World Food Prize and for his pioneering work on biofortification. My office is fully committed to promoting this cause, and this event is another milestone in that direction,” he said.
Deputy Director, Micronutrient Deficiency Control Unit at the Federal Ministry of Health, John Uruakpa, said the event was instrumental in driving advocacy and boosting awareness on the available options for collaboration among key stakeholders in sectors and industries involved in the production of nutritious foods in Nigeria.
He said, “There has been a call for people to eat healthy food, but not many know what to eat. This platform has given participants a clearer picture of the foods they can consume. We have a number of foods grown locally that are rich in essential micronutrients, such as vitamin A cassava. There are also the options of food fortification, dietary diversification, and supplementation. At the ministry, we are especially happy that we are collaborating with HarvestPlus in promoting biofortification in Nigeria, which ensures that staple crops are enriched with essential micronutrients.”
Country Manager, HarvestPlus Nigeria, Paul Ilona, said that this year’s edition of the Fair marks a giant stride in the quest to tackle malnutrition in Nigeria, noting, “It remains quite scary that approximately 100 children under the age of 5 die every hour for reasons that include malnutrition. It is our collective belief that every child should have an equal right to grow to full capacity. We expect that interventions at this Fair would change the landscape of production and consumption of more nutritious foods and contribute to reducing mortality rates in children and women of childbearing age.”
He added that this year’s Fair presents a rare opportunity to build a robust discourse around the food we eat; how they are produced and why we should opt for more nutritious options.
“The Federal Ministries of Agriculture, Health, and Education have adopted measures to mainstream nutrition into their policy documents. State governments diversifying their economies through agriculture are equally supporting and stimulating the private sector to invest in growing and processing more nutritious foods. This is not happening in isolation. It complements efforts and policies around food fortification, dietary diversification, and supplementation adopted by the government over the years, all of which are geared towards tackling malnutrition,” he said.
The Member representing Ohaozara Onicha/Ivo Constituency, Ebonyi State, at the House of Representatives and Chairman of House Committee on Agriculture Institutions and Colleges, Hon. Linus Okorie noted that the event is an innovative platform to engage experts, policymakers, farmers, and residents of the host state, Cross River, on malnutrition and healthy living.
“I am excited about what HarvestPlus is doing and how they are bringing everybody together to have a conversation on nutritious foods. This is supporting government’s efforts to tackle malnutrition from the policy making angle. Here, we are meeting with the people and telling them what they need to know about eating the right food, at the right time and for the right reasons,” he said.
The Fair also featured NutriQuiz, a quiz competition that tests secondary school students on their knowledge of nutrition and agriculture. The competition was fiercely contested by schools from Akwa Ibom, Benue, Cross River, and Imo states. Students from Government Girls Secondary School, Big Qua Town, were crowned champions after contesting with eight other finalists.