Malnutrition is common in Nigeria. It most times results to health effects that range from mild to severe, and sometimes life-threatening. The most common malnutrition include deficiencies in vitamin A, iron and zinc with prevalence of 29.5%, 26%, and 20% respectively in children under five years.
Commonly used interventions include nutrient supplementation, dietary diversification, commercial fortification, nutritional education and agricultural interventions. Some of these programmes are expensive with short term benefits. Biofortification of staples has been identified as a cost effective, sustainable means of delivery of nutrition to the population. Biofortified crops formally released in Nigeria are provitamin A cassava, orange flesh sweet potato and yellow maize as well as quality protein maize.
The underlying causes of malnutrition in Nigeria are poverty, inadequate food production, and inadequate food intake. There is a close nexus between malnutrition and poverty. “One of the consequences of poverty,” said, Dr Blessing Akombi-Inyang, a lecturer in Global Public Health at the University of South Wales, “is the lack of access to nutritious food, which predisposes people to poor nutrition. Poverty increases the chances of malnutrition. Malnutrition, in turn, traps communities in poverty. Poverty and malnutrition are inextricably linked.
A well-diversified diet is nature’s own way of meeting the micronutrient needs of a population. However this might be currently unattainable in most households due to poverty and lack of education. Some farmers’ families sell their micronutrient rich harvested fruits and vegetables to buy cheaper staples.
Whilst Nigeria is the biggest global producer of cassava, at 60 mt in 2017, just 2.8% is biofortified. Switching to newly released biofortified varieties of cassava could provide up to 40% of the Vitamin A recommended daily allowance for children under five, in a country where nearly one in three children under five and one-quarter of all pregnant women are Vitamin A deficient. Lack of sufficient vitamin A blinds up to 500,000 children annually and increases the risk of death from disease (such as diarrhea in children). Vitamin A deficiency is widely prevalent in Nigeria.
Foods that are good sources of vitamin A, such as orange fruits, dark leafy vegetables, or meat, are not always available, or may be too expensive in some states. In many States, people eat large amounts of staple foods like cassava or maize. For example, in Akwa Ibom, people eat up to a pound of white garri daily. However, this white garri provides no beta-carotene. Switching to vitamin A cassava, which is rich in beta-carotene, could potentially provide cassava-dependent populations with up to half their daily vitamin A needs.
As part of our effort to minimize micronutrient deficiency, El-kanis and Partners has cultivated orange fleshed sweet potato on over 50 hectares to supply government school feeding programme and is also collaborating with non-governmental agencies such as Global Allinace for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and HarvestPlus to strengthen Vitamin A Maize and Vitamin A cassava value chain through training, input supply, technical support and market access. It is projected that biofortification of local staples will provide at least 30% of estimated average requirements (EAR) for iron, 25% for zinc and 50% for provitamin A.
How to Improve Nutrition in Nigeria.
Harness Vulnurable Group Fund (VGF) to support Nutrition-Sensitive Agricultural Programs
The Vulnerable Group Fund is expected to be deducted from call charges from June 2022, which would be set aside to pay for healthcare services for vulnerable Nigerians which include children under five, pregnant women, aged, physically, and mentally challenged persons, and indigent people as may be defined from time to time who cannot pay for health insurance. Part of VGF should be channeled to support farmers grow nutrition-sensitive agriculture in Nigeria. El-kanis and Partners is already implementing nutrition-sensitive agricultural projects in several parts of Nigeria and are open to partnership for scale.
Nutrition-sensitive agriculture is a food-based approach to agricultural development that puts nutritionally rich foods and dietary diversity at the heart of overcoming under-nutrition, over-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. The primary objective of investing in nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems is to ensure that acceptable, diverse, nutritious and safe foods, adequate to meet the dietary needs of people of all ages, are available and affordable at all times.
This can mean, for example, introducing good practices that enable year-round access to a variety of nutritious food – either by making sure producers have the resources to produce the right foods for a healthy diet, or by equipping markets to sell a variety of nutritious foods at affordable prices. It also means preventing food loss and waste by reducing food-borne pathogens through good hygiene practices and improving technology along the value chain. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture also means educating families about nutrition so they can produce, purchase, prepare and consume healthy foods.
Stimulate downstream demand
Urban and rural consumer groups have all demonstrated in-principle willingness to pay for Vitamin A cassava, as high as a 31% price premium for Vitamin A garri when aware of benefits. These groups represent more than 60% of the market (46.8% consuming gari and 14.4% fufu), but the majority are not yet aware of Vitamin A cassava’s nutritional benefits. Stimulating market demand through awareness campaigns will encourage upscale by strategic enterprises and opportunistic smallholders, as uncertainty about market demand will be removed for micro-processors and SMEs.
Reinforce linkages between stem producers and small farmers
Once demand is proven, sustained production of Vitamin A cassava, orange flesh sweet potato and vitamin A maize could be addressed through improved linkages between stem producers and farmers as this affects the whole value chain. The demand of basic gari, fufu, custard and other biofortified food products are mainly serviced by smallholder farmers, who get their seeds from large farms undertaking multiplication. As such, the weak linkages between the International agencies, partners, smallholders and the large farms who supply their seeds will need to be strengthened. There are a number of ways development agencies and government can support these value chain linkages, including:
Outreach: Supporting farmer outreach to broaden connections between smallholder farmers, agro dealers and stem producers through marketing and information campaigns. This would require a short-term investment and would need to be backed by seed availability
Extension Services: Reinforcing government networks of extension services and demonstration plots is another avenue to connect farmers to services. However, the limited use and effectiveness of these services in Nigeria may restrict the efficacy of this approach
Clustering: Facilitating clustering of smallholder farmers in associations or cooperatives in order to create direct links between cooperatives and processors. The high fragmentation of both smallholder farmers and microprocessors makes this both a potentially high impact and challenging approach We believe that the most effective intervention would be outreach to farmers in order to establish seed links, and clustering of farmers to facilitate downstream linkages to processors. Much of this has already been conducted by HarvestPlus programmes, hence we would recommend the scale-up of these activities into areas beyond south west of Nigeria.
Written by: Ekanikpong Ben
Contact email: [email protected]