•By AZUBIKE OGBONNAYA with agency report•
Chief executive officers (CEOs) from Nigeria’s leading food processing companies have revealed new food fortification commitments to improve the country’s nutrition, health, and economic development.
They joined industry, government, and development leaders at an event convened by Aliko Dangote as well as Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who participated via video conference.
The Nigerian Food Processing and Nutrition Leadership Forum gathered the leaders from major food industries, accounting for about 70 percent of the market share of fortified wheat flour, edible oil, sugar and salt in Nigeria.
These leaders convened for the first time to pledge collective actions to achieve adequate fortification of Nigeria’s major food staples by 2020. The group will reconvene annually to track progress, with the second Forum scheduled to take place within one year.
“Failing to address malnutrition will continue to negatively impact not only the health and wellbeing of Nigerians, but the country’s economic growth and prosperity,” the commitment document stated.
The Forum marks the start of a renewed, business-led effort to combat poor nutrition in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and projected to be the world’s third-most populous country by the year 2050.
By committing to high-quality fortification, the industry is taking critical steps to address the lack of access to basic nutrients and vitamins that holds back women’s and children’s health and development.
The addition of Vitamin A supports a stronger immune system; iodine improves brain development; and iron can significantly reduce problems associated with anaemia, including low-birth-weight babies, maternal deaths, and diminished work capacity.
Nigeria’s food industry leaders committed to incorporate food fortification as a key performance indicator in their corporate measurement framework, with regular review and reporting, both at a company level and industry-wide.
“The initiative to tackle malnutrition is a welcome development,” said Aliko Dangote, Chairman of the Aliko Dangote Foundation. “As corporate leaders, we can change this trend and prepare for our future-using tools already at our fingertips.
“One of the most powerful solutions for malnutrition is within the food processing industry: the fortification of staple foods such as wheat and maize flour, cooking oil, salt and sugar with essential vitamins and minerals.”
Nigerian government representatives committed to improving the regulatory environment around food fortification, pledging to review potential impediments to greater fortification and increase enforcement and incentive mechanisms.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also pledged to support fortification efforts and ensure independent progress assessments and annual convening through 2020.
“In the nearly 20 years since Melinda and I started our foundation, I’ve become more convinced than ever that the best investment a country can make is in the health and well-being of its people,” Bill Gates told the Forum. “And often, the best investments are in simple, scalable advancements. Food fortification is one of those advancements.”
This new initiative is part of the Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF) project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by the international development non-profit TechnoServe, with the non-profit consortium Partners in Food Solutions.
In the coming months, the SAPFF partners will work with these CEOs and the broader processing industry to support these important commitments.
“Food fortification is the key to improved health and productivity, and Nigeria’s processing companies are the key to food fortification,” said William Warshauer, President and CEO of TechnoServe.
“Given TechnoServe’s business approach to development, we are excited to work with the private sector on such a critical effort to boost development for Africa’s largest population and economy.”