Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote yesterday assured that the bleak outlook facing the Nigerian Naira against major world currencies would soon be over and the currency would bounce back against the dollar and others.
Nigeria currently trades her naira at N500 to one dollar at the parallel market, a situation that has triggered an unprecedented inflation and two recessions under the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Dangote, who is also the chairman of the Aliko Dangote Foundation gave this assurance at the 3rd Annual Nigeria Food Processing and Leadership Forum which was chaired by Dangote and had the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in attendance through video-conferencing.
Dangote said food fortification in Nigeria has reached a 90 percent compliance and the high rate of the dollar has not affected the target to increase nutrition for millions of stunted and malnourished Nigerian children.
Dangote: “It is not really going to affect our target regardless of the dollar exchange rate because as we speak we are doing the fortification without the consumers paying, it is not part of our cost, we take it as a service and we are not charging for those fortifications. But the naira will stable and be more than what it is today.”
Earlier during the event, TechnoServe, an international non-governmental organization had presented a data showing a marked improvement in food fortification in Nigeria, this is following three years of intense engagement by the federal government and Chief Executives of the country’s largest food processing companies.
According to data presented by TechnoServe, companies have significantly improved their compliance with food fortification standards in the span of three years. Together, these producers reach more than 90 percent of the Nigerian population.
The data reveals that from 2017 to 2020, the population reached with wheat flour fortified with iron and folic acid increased from 54 percent to 92 percent; the population reached with sugar fortified with Vitamin A increased from 31 percent to 96 percent; and salt iodization levels were maintained at 95 percent.
Dangote who praised the efforts of the food processing companies maintained that “ the private sector remains the engine of growth for the Nigerian economy.”
He said further that, “ By creating a common set of compliance standards, while also giving companies the tools they need to effectively fortify their foods, we are creating a sustainable path to delivering Nigerians food that will help them live healthier, more productive lives. Better nutrition for our consumers means better health and economic development for our nation.”
The data also shows that edible oil fortified with Vitamin A also made progress, but to a lesser degree, with the population reached with fortified cooking oil increasing from 25 percent to 32 percent. Unlike the other staples, however, the edible oil companies participating in the CEO forum represent closer to 40 percent of the nation’s total production volume.
According to TechnoServe, one reason for the slower progress is that the edible oil industry is less centralized than other staple foods, requiring coordination across more stakeholders. The organization however promised to continue working on further technical assistance to oil millers who want to participate in the multi-stakeholder effort.
In addition, it said it will support relevant government agencies to improve its efforts on regular testing of imported edible oil at the ports of entry.
And to put the scale of these achievements in perspective, an additional 125.7 million Nigerians now have access to sugar fortified with vitamin A; an additional 73.5 million have access to wheat flour fortified with iron and folic acid; and an additional 13.8 million have access to cooking oil fortified with vitamin A.
Minister of Industry, Trade & Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo praised the commitment of the food processing companies while assuring of government’s continued support towards the achievement of the goal.
“Given the impacts of Covid-19 on our economy, I am particularly impressed with the leadership we have seen from our food companies. Our industry leaders have shown that even during an international public health crisis and an economic crisis, we can still deliver good nutrition for all citizens, including our poorest, through production and distribution of widely consumed fortified staple foods.”
The co-chair of the BMGF, Mr. Bill Gates emphasized the need for children to be fortified with essential vitamins.
“Vitamin A is one of the most critical nutrients kids need to grow up healthy—but too few kids receive a sufficient amount in their diet. The world needs to fortify more foods with Vitamin A. The leaders in this meeting have already shown what’s possible for wheat flour, salt, and sugar. I hope that by the next time we meet, cooking oil will be added to the list,” Gates said.
A grim statistic
Worldwide, more than two billion people suffer from micronutrient malnutrition—deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals that are integral to healthy growth and development. Fortifying staple foods—such as oil, flour, salt and sugar—with vitamins and minerals has been proven to be one of the most cost-effective and scalable tools to combat malnutrition and save lives.
Also one out of three Nigerian children under five are stunted with their bodies and brains deprived of the key nutrients they need to fully develop to reach their full potential. Over the long-term, stunting results in a 10 to 17 percent loss of wages.
When multiplied across the nation, it’s estimated that Nigeria loses more than US$1.5 billion in GDP annually as a result of diminished productivity and increased healthcare costs.
“If Nigeria is really serious about creating jobs, expanding its markets and growing its economy, nutrition and food systems should be put in the centre of the conversation” said Larry Umunna, West Africa Regional Director, TechnoServe.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 50 studies found that large-scale fortification programs in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) have led to dramatic reductions in serious disease in those countries, helping to achieve a 34% reduction in anemia from improved iron stores; a 74% reduction in goitre and a significant reduction in iodine deficiency; a 41% decrease in neural tube defects due to reductions of folate deficiency among women of reproductive age; and an approximate reduction in vitamin A deficiency (VAD) for three million children (0-9 years), significantly reducing their risk of mortality.