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Nigeria can achieve nutrition security with Right to Protein campaign – Roepke

Nigeria can achieve nutrition security with Right to Protein campaign – Roepke

KEVIN ROEPKE is the regional director of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, US Soybean Export Council (USSEC). In this interview with Anthonia Obokoh, he spoke on the Right to Protein Initiative and what USSEC is doing to support Nigeria to attain food and nutrition security. Excerpts:

Can you provide an overview of your experience in the soybean industry, specifically soybean export?

USSEC is a non-profit US trade group representing the US soybean producers, processors, commodity shippers, merchandisers, allied agribusinesses, and agricultural organisations. The group’s main goal is building preference, improving the value, and enabling market access for US Soy for human consumption, aquaculture, and livestock feed in 82 countries globally.

The Right to Protein Nigeria conference is the first of its kind in the country. Why is USSEC driving this initiative?

The Right To Protein campaign is a consumer awareness and advocacy campaign. And the idea is to shine a light, build awareness and increase protein consumption, especially in developing countries. So, we started the campaign in India and expanded it to South Asia, and now we are expanding it fully to Nigeria. The idea is to shine a light on the importance of consuming protein as a micronutrient in everyone’s diet.
One of the critical issues to understand is that you cannot have adequate consumption without adequate supply, and you cannot have adequate supply without adequate production. And so, one of the great things I think that we see for the opportunity here in Nigeria is the advancement of the meat, milk and egg industry. Consequently, Nigeria has a fantastic poultry industry, and consuming poultry products like chicken meat and eggs, I think is a great way to increase poultry protein consumption here in Nigeria.
Protein has been an essential part of human diets; however, due to the ever-rising population, the demand for protein is increasing exponentially. Ensuring access to adequate and nutritious food for every individual is a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, millions of people globally still suffer from malnutrition and lack access to a diverse and balanced diet. By focusing on protein sources that are sustainable, affordable, and accessible, we can make significant strides towards achieving nutrition security for all.
We hope Nigeria will take a diversified and multi-faceted approach to achieving food and nutrition security. Local food and soy production is and will remain critically important and we invite leaders to consider complementing their local supply with high-quality imports to meet nutrition needs most effectively and sustainably.

What do you consider to be the key challenges and opportunities for soybean exports in the current market?

The macroeconomic challenges present in Nigeria are well-known and well-understood. And so, it would be great to see some solid but consistent macroeconomic growth and an increase in the disposable income of every man, woman, and child here in Nigeria.

How is USSEC developing and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders in the soy value chain, especially in Nigeria?

So, we do many activities and programmes here in Nigeria. The Right To Protein campaign is the programme that we are here sponsoring today. But we also have this Soy Excellence Centre, and Soy Excellence Centre has several tracks and curricula for students who are already engaged in the protein sector. We have an agronomy track, a feed milling track, an aquaculture track, and a poultry track, and the idea is to build capacity and professional development among employees in this sector. We also do technical programmes as part of efforts to increase the efficiencies within those sectors and trade servicing programmes to network and facilitate relationships with international suppliers of soy, especially in the United States.

How do you ensure compliance with international quality standards and trade regulations for your soy exports?

Well, right now, Nigeria is not importing any US soy. The USSEC is just focused on increasing the capacity and developing local production of meat, milk, and eggs here in Nigeria to increase protein consumption.

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What is your vision for the future of the soy export industry, and how do you plan to contribute to its growth and success as the director of the council?

As we look at initiatives like the Right To Protein, we are focused on increasing awareness and educating the public on the importance of protein consumption; be it in the form of cognitive development, or the form of health and nutrition. You know, one of the great mantras is ‘knowledge is power’ and in order to first facilitate the consumption of protein, you must make sure the public is aware of the importance of protein consumption.

USSEC places a lot of emphasis on innovation, partnerships, and collaborations. How have you been delivering on those value propositions in Nigeria particularly and in other markets where you have operations?

We are very insistent on developing and collaborating with local industry. For example, at the Right To Protein campaign today, we are fortunate enough to be partnering with Amo Farms Sieberer Hatchery Limited, who have developed a local indigenous breed of chicken called the Noiler, which is a dual-purpose meat and egg chicken that is specifically developed in Nigeria for Nigeria. We are also collaborating with West Africa Soy Industries Limited (WASIL) which is a soybean processor and Crusher in order to facilitate and increase the consumption of protein here.

What is your advice for developing markets like Nigeria with nutrition and food security challenges?

I think the advice would be to really support and develop your local commercial sectors, work with the poultry sector, work with the aquaculture sector, work with the dairy sectors, and understand their challenges; because if you can really understand their challenges and their bottlenecks, then you can enable them to build scale and innovate themselves, adopt innovation at scale, and then as a result, they will be able to supply and provide very accessible high-quality proteins for their market.

What do you hope to achieve with the Right to Protein initiative in Nigeria?

We are hoping to ultimately increase the consumption of protein and ultimately, lead to a healthier and wealthier Nigeria. However, the easiest way or the path of least resistance is to support the consumption of at least one egg per day. An egg is extraordinarily nutritionally dense. It stores well, it transports well, and it should be affordable and available to every Nigerian, and I think if every Nigerian is able to consume at least one egg per day, they would make market achievements in protein and nutrition security.

What are your long-term objectives for the soy value chain in Nigeria?

We would more than anything else like to see protein consumption increase. As protein consumption increases, we have seen a correlation with an increase in cognitive development, we have seen an increase in disposable income. And as a result, you know consumers have more choices. And once consumers have more choices than they want, they can explore different food options. Protein is such an important macro ingredient for consumers to consume. And as a result, you know, that’s why the Right To Protein campaign exists.