With mounting nutritional challenges facing millions of Nigerians, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, private sector operators in the food processing industries, as well as government regulating agencies, have pledged commitment towards achieving optimal levels in food fortification compliance.
This is even as the leading sugar producer in the country, Dangote Sugar Refinery Plc has won an award, having been ranked as the leading company with significant strides in institutionalising large-scale food fortification best practices.
The pledge was made at the 4th Annual CEO Forum of Food Processing & Nutrition Leadership themed ‘Ensuring Improved Health and Nutrition Through Cross-Sectoral Leadership’ organised collaboratively by TechnoServe; Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF) and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Lagos.
The CEO Forum is the gathering of Nigerian Food Processors and Nutrition Leadership where critical and concerned players in the food processing, health and financing sectors appraise the food fortification situation in the country, which is meant to correct the present food system that has been linked to poverty, hunger, malnutrition, disease, unemployment etc.
President of Dangote Group and Chairman of the ADF, Aliko Dangote, who chaired the meeting, said food fortification is a health issue that members of the Forum are committed to complying with in each of the foods their organisations manufacture in the interest of nutritional health of Nigerians.
He recalled how the Forum has proposed to be converging periodically to assess how far the compliance has been and expressed happiness that the report for 2022 was an improvement on the previous report.
He also urged members of the Forum to double their efforts to shore up compliance in the area where it is still below expectation.
He assured that there was no going back in achieving full micronutrient fortification compliance, especially in the pandemic era, to mitigate the effect of the virus.
In his remarks, Mr Bill Gates commended the efforts of the Nigerian private sector involved in the food fortification process and the affected government agencies for rising to the occasion to ensure that fortification compliance is achieved so that Nigerians could be immune against malnutrition.
He said his Foundation was happy to be involved in the task and urged all not to rest on their oars until full fortification compliance is achieved.
Reporting milestones and compliance trends covered by the Forum in 2021, Mr Dominic Schofield of TechnoServe listed 14 companies covering 31 brands as having joined the Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI) ranking for Wheat Flour, Edible Oil, Sugar and Salt.
Dangote Sugar was named among the four companies with substantial compliance in the four food categories, with others being Flour Mills, awarded in two categories and Raffles Oil LFTZ Enterprise.
The essence of the MFI ranking, Schofield explained, is that members of the public would have access to information about the fortification of the four staple foods and help encourage companies to meet their fortification targets.
He stated, “The recent implementation of pandemic-related border controls has enabled industrially-processed edible oil producers, adequately fortifying, to capture an increased market share and ensure wider consumer reach.
“The wheat flour sector demonstrably attempted to sustain compliance levels over the last year. Disrupted access to good quality Vitamin A, however, continues to pose a risk to good performance.
“With the promise of renewed focus; with opportunities to innovate in business processes and digitalization that better integrates food fortification and foster trust, and with the commitment and collective action on the part of all food fortification stakeholders, Nigerian processors can get back to the levels of optimal compliance achieved before the pandemic.”
In his remark, Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who joined the meeting virtually from Abuja, expressed the appreciation of the Federal Government to the Forum, especially the sponsors, for sustaining the food fortification efforts in the overall interest of Nigerians.
As the Forum celebrates overall 90 per cent compliance on fortification, he said the private sector operators deserved commendation having gone that far despite the challenges.
He assured that the Federal government and its regulatory agencies would continue to collaborate for better results ahead, noting, “if we all work together, we can achieve the shared together and in good time.”
Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire; his Industry, Trade and Investment counterpart, Niyi Adebayo, as well as the Directors-General of NAFDAC and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye and Mr Farouk Salim respectively, all pledged to use governmental instruments to provide a conducive environment for the food processing companies to achieve their food fortification compliance target.
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Minister of Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo (left) presenting the award to the Group Executive Director, Commercial Operations, Dangote Industries Limited, Halima Aliko-Dangote (left) and the Group Managing Director, Dangote Sugar Refinery Plc, Ravindra Singhvi (middle)