Efforts to address malnutrition in Nigeria require both collective and political will, a coalition of nutrition advocates led by HarvestPlus have said.
At a gathering in Lagos to announce the 2018 Nutritious Food Fair, the Country Manager for HarvestPlus, Mr Paul Ilona said urgent and coordinated efforts were needed to improve nutrition and end the 450 billion naira annual losses in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) caused by malnutrition in Nigeria.
But beyond losses in GDP, Mr Ilona stressed that the number of deaths and irreparable damage to the growth and well being of children under five and women were alarming.
“For instance, if you take vitamin A deficiency in Nigeria, 30 percent of children under five years are estimated to be vitamin A deficient… And a deficiency in vitamin A lowers immunity, impairs vision, and may lead to blindness and even death,” he said.
Globally, about 2 billion people in the developing world do not get enough essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, Zinc, and Iron in their daily diets.
Mr Ilona described the lack of essential vitamins and minerals as “Hidden Hunger,” adding that those who suffer from this situation were usually vulnerable to illnesses and infections.
“In severe cases, hidden hunger can leave children blind, stunted, or with reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), and increases a woman’s risk of dying during pregnancy,” he explained.
To address the challenge of malnutrition, HarvestPlus and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, in the last two decades, developed and released provitamin A cassava varieties. IITA and HarvestPlus also developed and released provitamin A maize varieties. These varieties are being disseminated to farmers using a multi-pronged approach including awareness campaigns.
In 2015, HarvestPlus convened the first Nutritious Food Fair (NFF) in Abuja—an event to draw attention and promote the cultivation, and consumption of biofortified crops as a solution to malnutrition. The 2018 edition of the Nutritious Food Fair (NFF) which is billed to hold in Lagos on 7-9 November, builds on the previous editions and aims to bring awareness on biofortification and the dangers of malnutrition to millions of people in Nigeria’s biggest commercial city.
Francis Aminu of Dangote Foundation said Dangote Foundation would partner HarvestPlus to end malnutrition in Nigeria. “Dangote Foundation will make a presentation at the NFF,” he said.
He reiterated Dangote’s commitment to invest in nutrition and to provide the opportunity for every Nigerian child and woman to live healthily.
Dr Chris Isokpunwu, Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health commended HarvestPlus for its efforts in fighting malnutrition in Nigeria.
While pledging the commitment of the Federal Government of Nigeria to improve the nutrition of women and children, Dr Isokpunwu called for joint efforts from both the private and public sectors to help fight malnutrition.
Other participants at the event included the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Technoserve, and the International Potato Center (CIP) among others.