High-level efforts to fight malnutrition using industrial-scale food nourishment are making headway as the federal government is considering waiving duties on nutrients imports. This is seen as easing producers’ access to essential vitamins and minerals.
The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment and the Ministry of Health plans to engage the Ministry of Finance on categorising micronutrients at dire levels of deficiency in the diet of millions of Nigerian children under duty-free imports.
The move comes as an offshoot of intensified advocacy by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation and TechnoServe, a non-profit organisation focused on business solutions to poverty and it is expected to see staple food such as edible oil, wheat flour, sugar and salt adequately enriched during processing.
“The forum has given the government the opportunity to hear from the stakeholders. We will take the request for a decrease in import duties to our colleague in the Ministry of Finance with a view to tackling the issue,” Niyi Adebayo, the minister of Industry, Trade and Investment pledged, speaking during the 4th annual Nigerian food processing and leadership forum in Lagos.
Data released at the forum chaired by Aliko Dangote, Chairman, Dangote Group shows that compliance with food fortification standards is on the rise with more than 90 percent of the Nigerian market for salt, wheat flour and sugar reached with essential micronutrients.
The rate of salt fortification with iodine has been sustained at 90 percent since 2018, with over 185 million accessing iodised salt from four brands. Edible oil nourished with vitamin A rose by 16 percent to 49 percent in 2021 from 33 percent in 2020, reaching 94 million Nigerians.
About 64 percent of Nigeria’s population, (134 million) were reached with wheat flour rich in vitamin A, vitamin B3 and iron in 2021 full year. It, however, marked a steep decline from 93 percent in 2020. This was attributed to the supply-chain impact of COVID-19 disruption on companies’ ability to secure key nutrients, vitamin A in particular.
The worst micronutrient was recorded in sugar as vitamin A levels dropped to 26 percent in 2021 from 94 percent in 2020, unfortunately, 51.7 million Nigerians.
Dangote addressing industry leaders at the forum charged them to be more committed to compliance to create a sustainable path to delivering healthier foods to Nigerians.
“I plead with all the players to help achieve our aim. It will be very embarrassing to come back next year and we are now below 90 percent. Let us have it as a commitment to reach that target. Better nutrition for our customers means better health and economic development for our nation,” he said.
In a world where over 2 billion suffer micronutrient malnutrition, one out of three Nigerian children under five are stunted, depriving them of the key nutrients they need to develop. According to TechnoServe, the long-term impact of stunting results in 10 to 17 percent wage loss and when extrapolated, Nigeria loses more than $1.5 billion in the gross domestic product (GDP) yearly from poor productivity and high health costs.
Regrettably, Nigeria’s investment in micronutrients is low. For instance, a meagre $155, 387 was spent in 2019 on importing minerals from top partner countries including Turkey, Brazil, China, Spain, and Namibia, according to data from World Integrated Trade Solutions.
OEC trade data of vitamins shows that Nigeria spent $26.9 million on vitamins in 2019, representing 0.03 percent of global imports. South Africa spent $62.3 million and Egypt $52 million.
Osagie Ehanire, the minister of Health suggested that stakeholders in Nigeria’s food processing look inwards for solutions that can see some of these micronutrients produced locally, given the demand from a fast-growing population.
“We shall do all we can to support all initiatives to improve access to micronutrients and support the industry. But industrialists should also see how we can manufacture this micronutrient locally. With our population going to 250 million and perhaps the entire market of West Africa opportunities exist in production,” he said.