africa

Nigeria needs urgent action on food as population surges — Osinbajo


Nigeria has to act fast to develop a sustainable food system as it faces a population growth that is “handsomely” ahead of its economic growth figures, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said Tuesday.

Mr Osinbajo said the need to create a food system that works “has never been more urgent and more existential” as the country’s poverty levels has worsened particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.

The vice president made these remarks during the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), organised by the Nigerian government in collaboration with the United Nations, which was held virtually with over 700 participants in attendance.

The dialogue was organised with the hope of identifying food systems challenges from multiple perspectives, thereby highlighting priority actions for Nigeria’s food systems and providing pathways towards ensuring resilient and sustainable food systems in Nigeria by 2030.

“Malnutrition and unhealthy dietary practices create unique threats to health and productivity for generation after generation,” Mr Osinbajo said.

Mr Osinbajo described the dialogue as a crucial dialogue that should be all encompassing in order for Nigerians, policy makers and key stakeholders to benefit maximally.

He said the dialogue will help to raise global awareness and shape global commitments towards mobilising food systems, so as to address hunger, reduce diet related diseases and strengthen primary health systems across boards.

Mr Osinbajo explained that it is a significant challenge to produce enough food for a rapidly growing population, especially given the changes required in modernization of farming practices, mechanization, and reduction of post-harvest losses.

“But there are also questions around ensuring environmentally sustainable production practices, creating empowering jobs and livelihoods, and building capacities to ensure sustainable and healthy food systems,” he said.

These issues, he said, require expertise and experience, and also, the views of those who will literally be at the receiving end of these plans.

“In other words, at these dialogues, we don’t just want to hear the experts, we want to hear those at the receiving end, for whom all these plans are being made – the people of the country across all strata of society,” he said.

Mr Osinbajo urged that the food we produce and eat, how we produce and eat, should be environmentally friendly and not destroy the environment for future generations.

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He said “That seems simple enough. Aside from the inherent difficulties of recommending dietary changes, which is habit-forming and for most people, there are tough questions about what practices make sense in a high-income country and what will make sense in a developing country.”

In her remarks, the minister for Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said the Nigerian government has shown a clear commitment to the eradication of malnutrition in recent years.

She said that the federal government has shown commitment towards malnutrition eradication through the adoption and domestication of policies and significant strategic plans, which emphasise increased reliance on domestic funding.

Also, she said this commitment is happening through a well coordinated multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholders approach (comprising government, CSOs, private sector and donors), and are backed by sustained high-level political commitment.

“These include the National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition, the National Policy on Food and Nutrition, the innovative National Social Investment Programme (which includes the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme), the Basic Health Care Provision Fund, and the National Council on Nutrition, and the development of various food and nutrition sector plans,” she said.

Mrs Ahmed said the inception dialogue is aimed at identifying food systems challenges from multiple perspectives.

“The Dialogue is being organised in Nigeria in response to the UN Secretary-General’s call on world leaders to take part in a Summit that will help to establish the future direction for food systems and as well accelerate collective action to that end,” she said.

She said this is in line with recognition that transforming food systems is pivotal in efforts to achieving all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The minister said the Nigeria National Food Systems Dialogues (NNFSD) is necessary so as to improve nutrition security, reduce hunger and prevalence of malnutrition in line with the national food and nutrition policy for Nigeria.

It is envisioned to create more inclusive, healthier food systems and encourage a collaborative approach towards building a sustainable food system, she said.

According to a statement by the UN Information Centre (UNIC), in Nigeria, the Food Systems Dialogue is required to improve nutrition security, reduce hunger and prevalence of malnutrition in line with the national food and nutrition policy for Nigeria.

It said this will also create more inclusive, healthier food systems, encourage a collaborative approach towards building a sustainable food system and enhance the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Strategies being adopted

“We in Nigeria are at a critical crossroads,” Mrs Ahmed said, “While we have seen some improvements in recent years, particularly in the areas of child nutrition and breastfeeding, we know that in order for these improvements to yield results, malnutrition (and other public health issues) must be addressed through the implementation of innovative policies and strategies.

These policies and strategies she said should be appropriately funded, data-driven, sustainable, optimize transparency and accountability.

The minister stated that Nigeria must continue to work collaboratively across the Federal and State Governments, and hand in hand with the private sector, and development partners.

“This is particularly true given the dual impact of COVID 19 and the drop in crude oil prices,” she added.

She noted that the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic under the leadership of president uhammadu Buhari, has been swift and people-oriented

This, she said, was done through the fiscal stimulus package, amendments to the Medium-Term Fiscal Framework and the 2020 Appropriation Act, and the launch of the multi-sector Economic Sustainability Plan.

READ ALSO: Nigeria adopts five-year-plan to reduce hunger, malnutrition

The minister explained that the emphasis has been on protecting the economy and funding the country’s healthcare needs, with the COVID-19 response spurring necessary transformation and innovation in the fiscal space and beyond.

“This informed the rationale for making food and nutrition one of the key thematic areas in the Medium-Term National Development Plan (MTNDP 2021-2025) and the Nigeria Agenda 2050 presently being developed by my ministry in collaboration with relevant stakeholders,” she said.

Scourge

Meanwhile, Rasaki Sanusi, Human nutritionists, University of Ibadan, while delivering a presentation titled: “Ensuring Access to Safe and Nutritious Food for All through Transformation of Food Systems”, said with the increasing levels of hunger and food insecurity globally, approximately 25 million of the world’s hungry lives in Nigeria.

In his presentation, Mr Sanusi, a professor, noted that 690 million people globally are hungry, while 25 million of the world’s hungry live in Nigeria and that 9.2 million people in Northern Nigeria are suffering from acute food insecurity.

He said Nigeria has significant food challenges across its food system domain, and that Food Borne Diseases (FDB) is the most common and among vulnerable groups(the young, old,pregnant, immunosuppressed and malnourished).

“The most nutritious foods are also the most implicated in food borne diseases (animal source foods and fresh vegetables),” he said.

Recommendations

To remedy this, the official said there is a need to expand the scope and scale of the government’s social protection programme, and that a comprehensive agri-food Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) investment fund be established.

“Implement plans to mechanise agricultural production to enable innovation, increase resilience and productivity with a focus on nutrition,” he said.

He said there’s a need to scale up sustainable cold chain technologies to tackle food loss.

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