How food fortification is addressing malnutrition in Nigeria

Lack of essential micronutrients in diets affects proper growth and development of the body. This nutrient deficiency has implications for the cognitive ability of a population.

As such, mental impairments such as attention deficit, weak learning processes and lower IQ are linked to the dearth of essential micronutrients in foods during the formative stages.

Food fortification is a deliberate manufacturing action that involves adding vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients to packaged foods. Notable micronutrients added to packaged foods are Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, folic acid, iron, and iodine. Besides aiding proper cognitive functioning, they play a key role in human wellness.

Eating foods that are rich in folic acid during pregnancy help prevent defects in babies. Vitamins trigger valuable chemical reactions that facilitate the release of energy in the body; ensure proper organ functions, prevent cell damage, and improve body defence mechanisms. Iron provides oxygen for muscle functioning.

Calcium strengthens the body’s bone networks. Precisely, consuming these vitamins and minerals set up the body for optimal mental and physical balance.

It is worth noting that the human body doesn’t manufacture the aforementioned essential minerals and vitamins. They would have to come from nutritious food.

Consequently, policymakers across the globe continue to develop suitable dietary frameworks to enforce wider food fortification in critical staple segments.

As of 2017, around 140 countries have implemented policies to drive food fortifications in select segments. These dietary drives aim to strengthen the cognitive capacity of the active segment of the countries to spur productivity.

Nigeria is not left out of the dietary drive. For the past decade, the country has been striving to achieve wider food fortification, especially in the staple food categories. It has formulated policies and passed laws that stipulate that at least sugar, oil, wheat, semolina, and maize flour must be fortified with vitamin A.

Also, sensitisation campaigns are being embarked upon to sensitize the public about the health implications of eating foods that do not contain valuable micronutrients, and drive actions that would ensure large-scale food fortification.

The ‘Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF)’ programme by TechnoServe Nigeria, a non-government organization and the ‘Nigeria Food Processing and Leadership CEO Forum’ convened by TechnoServe, the Aliko Dangote Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are parts of these efforts.

Another one is the ‘Live Strong with Iron’ campaign by a private business and the launch of the Large-Scale Food Fortification (LSFF) championed by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In the manufacturing sector, spearheading the delivery of affordable fortified packaged foods is Olam Agri’s wheat milling business Crown Flour Mill (CFM) Limited, a top manufacturer of packaged wheat-derivative foods.

The business was an active participant in the launch of the Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI) in Nigeria in the year 2021.

Subsequently, it installed a Vitamin Premix technology across its production plants located in Apapa, Warri, Tin Can and Port Harcourt to ensure its food brands such as Mama Gold flour, Supreme Semolina, Crown Premium Spaghetti, Crown Spaghetti and Bakewell Flour are adequately fortified with essential vitamins to enrich the dining experience of the consumers as well as strengthen the cognitive capacity of the population.

Recently, the business also raised the total number of its delivery fleet to 700 to deepen the distribution of its affordable fortified food brands across the country.

To underline the business food fortification focus, Ashish Pande, country head for Olam Agri Nigeria, said, “We continue to invest in best food production and fortification technology while consistently auditing our processes to avoid food hazards and risks.”

“These overwhelming commitments to quality food production procedures boost consumers’ confidence in our food brands as evidenced by our brand loyalty assessments and positive feedback received in all trade channels,” he said.

Our customers, therefore, take pride in our food standardization efforts as they keep enjoying our most nourishing and affordable food products,” he added.

In the same vein, Jean Hazoume, the vice president of Quality, Olam Agri in Nigeria, explained that the business adopts a holistic approach in its manufacturing processes to ensure a consistent supply of healthy, well-nourished food to the market.

He said, “Best practices are observed during the handling, processing, and distribution of our food products to ensure that contaminants that can cause foodborne illnesses are not present. We have already implemented all HACCP programs on all our sites as well as Pre-requisite programs which are rigorously followed.”

Meanwhile, on a global scale, agribusiness keeps firing on all cylinders to ensure more people have access to healthy diets daily.

Speaking at the recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF), Ashish said Olam Agri will deliver 1 trillion servings of fortified food – wheat flour, edible oil, rice – to provide essential micronutrients to over 250 million people each day by 2030.

He revealed, “In 2021, we produced more than 83 billion servings of fortified foods for consumers in Africa, which included fortified rice in Ghana and Cameroon.

“Our commitment goes beyond meeting regulatory requirements to addressing the important nutrient gaps faced by millions of people. By 2030, we pledge to deliver 1 trillion servings of fortified food – wheat flour, edible oil, rice to provide essential micronutrients to over 250 million people each day,” Pande said.

Back to Nigeria, Olam Agri’s holistic manufacturing approach and investment in Vitamin premix technology, continue to add strong impetus to the national food fortification agenda. In the years to come, the impact would be seen in the smooth transformation of young people into productive, active members of the national workforce.

Kudos to the government for driving the food fortification agenda, it is fitting to call on other food manufacturers to follow Olam Agri’s examples by prioritising the delivery of affordable and quality fortified packaged foods and food ingredients to aid the proper growth among children and aid the wellness of the population.

This is because there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure a stronger pivot to eating nutritious meals in the country. Most households still prioritize quantity over quality when it comes to food preferences and for obvious reasons.

Reflecting on the effects of these unfavourable household preferences, the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) revealed, “Nigeria has the second-highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 percent of children under five.”

The UN revelation is not unattached to the poor diet fed to children of low-income households. This should spur all food manufacturers to action. Addressing nutritional deficiency in a country requires concerted efforts.

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