By Victor Emeruwa
Food manufacturers in Nigeria are asking the Federal Government for a duty waiver on the importation of essential nutrients used in the fortification of staple foods in the country. This concession will ensure that Nigerians continue to get essential nutrients in their staple diet required for the eradication of malnutrition.
The request was made in Lagos on Thursday at the 4th Annual Nigeria Food Processing and Leadership Forum chaired by Alhaji Aliko Dangote, which also had the vice president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and Mr. Bill Gates attending via teleconferencing.
Dangote noted that food manufacturers face many challenges including increased prices and would require government’s support in granting the subvention.
He said: “With the challenges that the industry is facing in getting the nutrients, I am sure the government will definitely try and remove this from a semi product and allow it as a raw material which will now be imported on zero duty, I am sure the minister of Industry, Trade and Investment will push government to allow us to be importing this duty free.
“We will keep investing in food fortification but we have to reduce our cost by removing duty. We want to thank the government for their support especially the regulators in ensuring there is compliance, the regulators will ensure everyone conforms to the standard.”
While there is no concrete assurance that this request would be granted, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment, Otunba Adebayo Adeniyi said he will speak to the Minister of Finance on it.
Adeniyi said: “This forum is very important because it has given government the opportunity to hear directly from the stakeholders. When the comment was being made about the increase in tax duties on the fortifications that are being used, I had a short whisper to my colleague, the Minister of Health and we have both agreed that we will take this request to the ministry of finance. Government will continue to invest and we appreciate what you are doing for the country and we will continue to support you.”
Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire emphasized the importance of food fortification but also urged the manufacturers to consider local production of the nutrients.
Ehanire: “Food fortification is a very important component of health strategy, because it is critical for prevention of certain diseases but also important for health promotion to have more healthy citizens which is important in human capital development.
“We shall do all we can in health sector to ensure we improve access to micro nutrients. But I do understand that the idea should also come to some industrialists to say well, let us find how we can manufacture this micronutrient locally.
“Because with our own population going to 240 million and perhaps the entire market of West Africa, opportunities exist to say why don’t we go into the production of these nutrients rather than rely on importation. I want the captain of industry to look at. But you have the support of the Ministry of Health.”
Nigeria makes gains in food fortification
There were however good news coming from the Forum about food fortification in Nigeria. Over four years, the forum has seen increased engagement with the government by Nigeria’s largest food processing companies resulting in steady progress.
According to data presented by Techno Serve, an international nongovernmental organisation that promotes the Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Food Project (SAPFF), overall success has improved in spite of some setbacks.
The decline was occasioned by the supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the ability to secure essential fortification materials like vitamin A.
According to the new data, compliance levels for salt fortified with iodine was sustained at more than 90percent, while edible oil fortification with vitamin A increased from 25 percent in 2018 to 49 percent in 2021.
In addition, compliance level for wheat flour fortified with vitamin A, vitamin B3 and iron increased from 56 percent in 2018 to 64 percent in 2021. Moreover, compliance levels for sugar fortified with vitamin A decreased from 31 percent to 26 percent in 2021.
The Chairman of the Forum, Aliko Dangote however urged the food processors to ensure the targets set for themselves are achieved. “Some of us do but others need to also. I believe all the players in the industry will help in terms of trying to achieve our targets. It will be very embarrassing if we come back next year and we announce below 90 percent. Let us have it as a commitment to hit that target, “Dangote said.
Private sector is key to end malnutrition
In four years, 14 companies representing 31 brands have made commitments to enriching the nutrients of Nigeria’s staple food, a demonstration of the private sector’s commitments to implement strategies aimed at pursuing and sustaining fortification excellence.
“The private sector remains the engine of growth for the Nigerian economy. 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,” says Dangote.
For Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), said: “Large-scale food fortification is one of the most effective tools to ensure people get the vitamins and minerals they need to thrive. As we look to support an equitable recovery from the pandemic, countries and communities will need to deploy proven solutions to promote cognitive development, school performance, productivity and earning potentials.”