BusinessDay

How Micronutrient Fortification Index makes food processors accountable

Poor nutrition has continued to rob Nigeria of its growth potential, making investments in tackling malnutrition critical to the country’s future.

Almost half of all child deaths in Nigeria are caused by inadequate nutrition and it is the underlying cause of many diseases. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), malnutrition is a direct or underlying cause of 45 percent of all deaths of under-five children in Nigeria.

Similarly, the National Demographic Health Survey conducted in 2018 shows that Nigeria lags behind its peers, with a concerning proportion of its malnourished population.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria has seen a surge in the number of malnourished persons in the country.

This is because malnutrition is multi-factorial and anything that affects any of these factors; agriculture, transport and logistics, health, spending, GDP, household finances will eventually affect peoples’ level of nutrition.

To tackle the malnutrition challenges and ensure that households across the country have access to affordable nutritious food, Africa’s most populous country resolved to drive large-scale food fortification.

Since then, interest in food fortification to address the malnutrition crisis has increased greatly over the past two decades, mainly driven by the realization that micronutrient deficiencies contribute substantially to the global burden of disease and impedes national economic growth.

In 1993, Nigeria implemented the salt iodization policy and since then, goitre and iodine deficiency have been drastically reduced from a high prevalence of 67 percent in the 80’s to less than six percent in 2015. This achievement was made because 98 percent of Nigerian households had access to adequate iodized salt – produced at factory level.

The feat earned the country a congratulatory message from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2005 for achieving Universal Salt Iodization. This made Nigeria become the first African country to get such recognition after the national programme for the elimination of iodine deficiency.

To replicate this success across the food industry, the Nigerian government mandated the fortification of flour, oil, maize, semolina and sugar in 2002, but compliance levels have generally tended to be significantly below the legal requirements.

To drive micronutrient fortification compliance and ensure that the industry self-regulates, TechnoServe through its market based and industry-led Programme – Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF) has in the last four years worked with partners to re-define the unsatisfactory narrative of large-scale food fortification in the country.

To boost private-sector engagement on the issue, TechnoServe’s – SAPFF Program convened leading industry executives and key government officials during the 2018 CEO Forum, where the stakeholders supported the idea of a self-regulatory index.

The SAPFF program and leading food processing companies then designed and piloted the resulting Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI). The MFI uses large and diverse sets of data about food fortification to provide simple, easy-to-understand performance indicators of specific brands and the food sector as a whole.

Read Also: TechnoServe trains edible oil processors on Micronutrient Fortification Index

The MFI was debuted with a pilot in 2019 in Nigeria’s food industry and today, top food processors in the country’s food industry have chosen to adopt the index as a sustainable business case for the production and distribution of nutritious, quality foods benefitting the society and the organisation’s long term profitability.

Owing to this, YemiOsinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria called for the adoption of the index across the food industry. “The use of this tool should be adopted by all companies involved in fortification and I believe it should be made available to stakeholders and shareholders alike,” he said.

What is MFI?

The MFI is an industry-led initiative that seeks to simplify complex quality parameters on the efficacy and consistency of compliance with mandatory food fortification standards by participating processors of wheat flour, salt, sugar and edible oil in Nigeria.

It is a self-assessment tool that is built internally by businesses to help measure their food fortification compliance levels, alongside the existing regulatory regime. Also, it is an innovative mechanism that helps the food industry self-regulate.

According to experts, MFI helps in derisking companies’ exposure to failures in maintaining both regulatory and best-practice standards in fortification compliance as well as overall quality management. It is an index that helps businesses integrate effectiveness from strategic governance, to production and consumer satisfaction.

The MFI’s web portal features a simple ranked list of companies and their performance against fortification standards and industry quality benchmarks, providing transparent information to consumers, policymakers, and other stakeholders.

It represents part of a broader strategy to digitize quality-assurance practices and strengthen industry ownership of food fortification.

The MFI is in three parts, which are; the self-assessment tools (60percent), industry intelligence (20percent) and the periodic independent testing (20percent).

The self-assessment approach is a proactive measure to increase food fortification, and the periodic independent product testing uses established protocols to select products and test for product compliance with fortification standards while the industry intelligence is an internal process testing.

Nigeria would gain more than $1 billion in additional GDP annually if it accelerated investments to meet World Health Assembly’s 2025 target for stunting

There are five components of the MFI, which are; governance (25percent), personnel (23percent) and production (20percent) as the internal components while procurement and partnerships (15percent) and public engagement (15percent) as external components.

The personnel indicator ensures that firms go through the rigour of sourcing and selecting the right personnel to drive their fortification efforts.

The production component assesses fortification process on the production line including the standardization of fortification processes and inputs, documentation of quality management, and production metrics & indicators among others.

For the governance component of the index, it helps to assess the board and directors commitment to the fortification processes.

The procurement and partnership component assesses quality management to ensure that food processes implement proactive measures to determine the quality of production inputs they utilize, while the pubic engagement component helps in assessing firms’ communication with various stakeholders to strengthen relationship between food processors and the general public.

“The MFI is a proactive measure to increase food fortification compliance in the country,” Ike IIegbune, TechnoServe’s lead consultant for MFI, said during a presentation at the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFST) 44th annual conference.

According to IIegbune, the model adopted for TechnoServe’s MFI has worked successfully in other areas, including corporate governance, noting that he would like to see companies reporting on MFI in their annual reports and communicating incremental improvements to key stakeholders.

Benefits of MFI

Food Processors: For companies that process and distribute products that must be fortified, the index serves as a tool for levelling the playing field. It incentivizes non-compliant firms to participate in regulatory fortification, putting them at par with those who are found to be compliant. It is a mark of quality to the market which that will influence the purchasing patterns of consumers who become more discerning and show a preference for products that meet quality and fortification standards.

The adoption of MFI quality-governance systems significantly reduces the risk of quality failures—which have a major cost—and drives innovation and waste reduction that improve commercial and bottom-lines.

The MFI will reward incremental improvements and provide opportunities for deserving processors to receive awards, recognizing progress along the steps and innovations in quality management.

Regulators and Policymakers: The MFI represents a paradigm shift in the treatment of food fortification from one based on the enforcement of a sanctions regime to one where the objectives are enhanced through a more co-operative approach.

Regulators benefit from adopting a risk-based approach enabling them to focus their modest resources and attention on non-compliant firms, whilst also taking a role in recognizing and validating the MFI brand.

Subsequent analysis of industry-wide trends can also contribute to the development of effective policies geared towards enhancing the enabling environment for staple food producers.

Consumers and Advocacy Groups: As with processors, it is expected that as consumer awareness expands, the MFI will become a trusted mark of quality, driving improvements that benefit consumers.

In addition to the specific value propositions to each stakeholder group, there are others, as in the table below, that cut across them all, such as the socioeconomic gains from improved national nutrition.

Research published by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition suggests that Nigeria would gain more than $1 billion in additional GDP annually if it accelerated investments to meet World Health Assembly’s 2025 target for stunting.

Micronutrient fortification is a vital part of reaching that target, and the MFI is an important step in encouraging adoption across Nigeria’s food industry.

The MFI will officially launch on September 16, 2021 at a hybrid in-person and virtual event.

CAPTION – Source: Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition 2016

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