By Victor Emeruwa
If the plans by the Federal Ministry of Health go accordingly, Nigerians would begin to see large-scale fortification in staple foods including rice.
Currently, fortification of staple foods are restricted to items such as sugar, oil, salt, pasta and noodles.
An official of the FMOH, John Uruakpa disclosed this in Lagos at the launch of Large Scale Food Fortification (LSFF) project by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) in Nigeria.
The event which saw industry stakeholders like the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control( NAFDAC), Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC), TECHNOSERVE, make commitments towards implementation of food fortification was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
According to Uruakpa, food fortification started as far back as 2002, with four food vehicles of flour, sugar, soil and salt put on the mandatory list.
The government, he noted, had recorded about 95 percent success in the fortification of the four food vehicles, and so it was looking to start with rice being another common staple in the country.
He said: “Most people are not aware of micro-nutrient deficiency; they are only familiar with malnutrition issues like kwashiorkor. Micro-nutrient deficiency is otherwise known as hidden hunger; hunger that is in the body and you don’t know until it begins to manifest as a disease.
“Those are the areas where fortification addresses. Night blindness is not a medical issue, but a lack of Vitamin A. Goiter is the result of lack of iodine, same way a child develops spina bifida due to the lack of folic acid. People do not know that spina bifida effect happens within 28 days of conception.
“The woman is not aware of a pregnancy but the damage is already done because she lacks folic acid pre-conception. This is why the government is also looking to double fortification of ion and zinc in some staples to decrease the rate of anaemia in expectant mothers.
“Recently, the government has begun looking towards fortifying rice with zinc and iron because about at least 80 per cent of families in Nigeria consume rice.”
On ensuring compliance to regulations, Uruakpa said regulatory agencies such as NAFDAC and SON are there to regulate and monitor from the production to the final consumer.
The BMGF, which has committed huge funds into Nigeria’s health and nutrition space also undermines the importance of improved dieting for Nigerians.
Director of Nutrition at BMGF Andrea Bluethner said Nigeria was chosen for the launch of LSFF because the country is at the forefront of everything in Africa.
According to him, childhood to adult development, including education and productivity, depends on the brain, which needs good diet to develop and function properly.
Thus, the need for food fortification to ensure consumers get adequate and required levels of nutrients for growth and development.
He added: “We have had fantastic dialogue with flour, salt and oil producers in Nigeria and it is encouraging that they understand the need to produce quality, affordable fortified food for the benefit of everyone.
“I think SON has an important role to play in checking if imported foods are fortified enough, and that is where digitisation comes to play, by ensuring quality across all sectors. We believe Nigeria is at the forefront of all in Africa to make examples of quality, usable products. This also means one of the best investments in human development; making it visible and looking to see if we can help these producers to also educate consumers on the kinetics of nutrition in the next four years.
Country Director for GAIN, lead partner in the project, Michael Ojo, noted that the digital revolution
presents new opportunities to prevent fortification shortfalls, while simultaneously increasing the efficiency and profitability of their businesses.
He added: “We anticipate that this system will allow companies to assure every customer that the nutrient content of their product is guaranteed, reducing health risks and offering a direct path to longer and healthier lives.”
The four-year pilot project is being implemented in Nigeria by GAIN as part of its worldwide commitment to supporting staple food fortification and ensuring better nutrition for all, supported by the BMBF.