Crusoe Osagie discusses the awareness being generated by HarvestPlus on how to beat nutrients' shortage and malnutrition afflicting a huge swathe of the population in the country
Nigeria, in recent times, has recorded scary indices of malnutrition. From the horrors of the Nigerian Civil War to the recent disturbing images of malnourished children at the Internally Displaced Persons' camps in the North East, the urgency to tackle the menace beset both government and non-government actors in the society.
The trend is a waiting time-bomb, some experts would say, a view that is not unconnected to concerns that hidden hunger-- a condition whereby one is lacking in essential micronutrients even after eating supposedly good meals -- limits many from contributing to national development. Malnutrition has been linked to deaths of children and pregnant women, poor school performance, suboptimal work performance and increased risk of diseases in adulthood. According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey in 2013, about 100 children of children under the age of five die every hour for reasons that include primarily malnutrition. The ramification of the indices for social and economic development in the near future is quite disturbing.
To engage concerned stakeholders and stimulate conversations that would help in reversing this trend, HarvestPlus Nigeria organises a yearly Nutritious Food Fair (NFF), an awareness creation and advocacy platform for key players in the health, agriculture, manufacturing and education sectors.
The second edition of the Fair held at the weekend at the Calabar International Convention Center (CICC) in Calabar, attracted actors in the public and private sectors, including top executives of Cross River State Government, notably the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. John Lebo; representatives from the Federal Ministries of Health and Agriculture; and development organisations such as United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF). The United Kingdom's Department of International Development (DFID)-Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE) programme; community based organisations; farmers; equipment fabricators; and food manufacturing companies, including Nestle and many others were also in attendance.
Experts at the Fair stressed that Nigeria stands a better chance at curtailing the scourge of malnutrition if stakeholders in the health, agriculture, educational and manufacturing sectors develop strategies that promote the production and consumption of locally-grown nutritious foods.
In his address, the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh said that the link between nutrition and agriculture needed to be strengthened to ensure that Nigerians grew and consumed more nutritious crops and foods, noting that the Fair would strengthen partnerships to overcome malnutrition and grow the country's food basket.
The minister, who was represented by Ms. Winifred Ochimabo, commended HarvestPlus for hosting the Fair, saying that he was fully committed to supporting policies and initiatives that promote the production of more nutritious crops.
"I commend HarvestPlus for this event. I also congratulate the former Director of HarvestPlus, Howarth Bouis on winning the World Food Prize for pioneering work on biofortification. My office is fully committed to promoting the cause of biofortification, and this event is another milestone in that direction."
Deputy Director, Micronutrient Deficiency Control Unit at the Federal Ministry of Health, John Uruakpa said the event was instrumental in driving advocacy and boosting awareness on the available options for collaboration among the critical sectors and industries involved in the production of nutritious food in Nigeria.
He said: "There has been a call for people to eat healthy food, but not many know what to eat. This platform has given participants a clearer picture of the foods they can consume. We have a number of foods grown locally that are rich in essential micronutrients, such as vitamin A cassava. There are also the options of dietary diversification and supplementation. At the ministry, we are especially happy that we are collaborating with HarvestPlus in promoting biofortification in Nigeria, which has ensured that crops are enriched with essential micronutrients."
Country Manager, HarvestPlus Nigeria, said that this year's edition of the Fair marks a giant stride in the quest to tackle malnutrition in Nigeria, noting, "It remains quite scary that approximately 100 children under the age of 5 die every hour for reasons that include primarily malnutrition. It is our collective believe that every child should have an equal right to grow to full capacity. We are excited to be here and hope you are too. We expect that interventions at this fair would change the landscape of production and consumption of more nutritious foods and contribute to reducing mortality rate in children and women of child bearing age."
He added that this year's Fair presents a rare opportunity to build a robust discourse around the food we eat; how they are produced and why we should opt for more nutritious options.
"The Ministries of Agriculture, Health and Education have adopted measures to mainstream nutrition into their policy documents. State governments diversifying their economies through agriculture are equally supporting and stimulating the private sector to invest in growing and processing more nutritious foods. This is not happening in isolation. It complements efforts and policies around food fortification, dietary diversification, and supplementation adopted by the government over the years, all of which were geared towards tackling malnutrition," he said.
Member representing Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo Constituency, Ebonyi State, at the House of Representatives and Chairman of House Committee on Agriculture Institutions and Colleges Hon. Linus Okorie, noted that the event is an innovative advocacy and awareness creation platform to engage experts, policymakers and residents of the host state, Cross River, on a burning national issue such as malnutrition.
"I am excited about what HarvestPlus is doing and how they are bringing everybody together to have a conversation on nutritious foods. This is supporting government's efforts to tackle malnutrition from the policymaking angle. Here, we are meeting with the people and telling them what they need to know about eating the right food, at the right time and for the right reasons," he said.
Edet Effiong, a farmer with Cuso International, a non-governmental organisation, said that the Fair has afforded him opportunity to learn of opportunities in the value chain of nutritious foods, noting that gaining practical experience at the capacity training booths was very beneficial.
He said: "I have learnt of the immense opportunities to learn from the different exhibitors at this fair. The opportunities are wide and encouraging. I never knew that these products existed before. At the training booths, I learnt that one could produce a lot of a lot of things. The other development organisations here also have a lot of things that would benefit one in the long.
Provost of the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure (FECA), Dr. Adeola Odedina said that the large turnout at this year's Fair was not surprising because people are interested in platforms that speak about health and wealth. Noting that the Fair has tremendously improved from what obtained last year, he said, "I am very excited about what we witnessed this year. We have a mix of the small and medium scale business people here. A number of them have been able to see what obtains in the nutritious food basket."
Aside the funfair, the event intends to build capacity of the local residents and participants. There were sessions for hands-on training on opportunities in vitamin A cassava and maize value chain, especially production technologies, processing, marketing and commercialisation.
FECA anchored the training session on production of pudding. Dr. Odedina said the platform was instrumental in passing knowledge on the production techniques of some of the innovative products developed by HarvestPlus and partners.
According to him, "This is a novel idea on technology transfer. We are able to train participants at the fair on how to make innovative products. They have the opportunity to access equipment that would help them in setting up small business, also.
The Fair also featured NutriQuiz, a quiz competition that tests secondary school students on their knowledge of nutrition and agriculture. The competition was fiercely contested by students from Imo, Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Benue States. Government Girls Secondary School, Big Qua Town, were crowned champions after sparing off with eight other finalists.