Malnutrition: Need to address Nigeria’s food shortage
Recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, has said that by June and August this year about seven million Nigerians would experience food shortage.
The food crisis according to FAO would be experienced in the FCT and 15 northern states; Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Gombe, Benue, Taraba, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano, Bauchi, Plateau, Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara.
Currently, Nigeria still has the highest burden of stunting in Africa and is still the second highest in the world next to India. The National Demographic Health Survey, NDHS, 2018, puts Nigeria's current nationwide childhood under-nutrition indicator at 37 percent stunting, seven percent wasting and 23 percent underweight.
Worse still, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this year a challenging one as it largely undermined efforts towards attaining food and nutrition security for all Nigerians. It deepened the challenge of accessibility to safe and nutritious foods and saw malnutrition rates soaring in some states particularly among children.
However, the development and implementation of Nigeria’s COVID-19 recovery plans, provides an array of opportunities to adopt innovative solutions to build back better and improve food systems, making them more resilient to emergencies.
To mark this year’s 2020 World Food Day, with the theme: "Grow, Nourish, Sustain, Together. Our Actions, Our Future" is calling for solidarity among all stakeholders in Nigeria, to grow, nourish, sustain, together and this requires collaborative efforts to ensure food and nutrition security for all Nigerians.
This 2020 commemoration is also calling on the government at all levels, the Farmer, the consumer, private organizations, civil Society among others, all have a role to play in helping all populations, especially the most vulnerable, recover from the crisis, and to make food and nutrition systems more resilient and robust so they can withstand increasing volatility and climate changes.
Commenting, the Civil Society - Scaling Up Nutrition In Nigeria, CS-SUNN through its Executive Secretary, Beatrice Eluaka emphasizes that Exclusive Breastfeeding particularly for infants in the first 6 months of life remains the best start that will provide infants with adequate nutrients and protect them against childhood killer diseases.
Eluaka stressed that food is the essence of life and preserving access to safe and nutritious food is, and will continue to be an essential part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for poor and vulnerable communities, who are hit hardest by the pandemic.
According to her, " It is even more important than ever to recognize the need to support farmers and workers throughout the food system - who are making sure that food makes its way from farm to table even amid disruptions as unprecedented as the current COVID-19 crisis.
"We call for delivery of affordable and sustainable healthy diets for all, and decent livelihoods for food system workers."
CS-SUNN is urging the government at all levels to: "Prioritize the food and nutrition needs of the poorest and most vulnerable households in Nigeria by expanding and improving emergency food assistance and social protection programmes.
"Approve and implement the National Multisectoral Plan of Action for Nutrition to guarantee optimal nutritional status for Nigerians through accelerating the scaling up of priority high impact nutrition specific and nutrition sensitive interventions with focus on the most vulnerable, especially women, children and internally displaced persons."
CS-SUNN Executive Secretary also said that the government should prioritize nutrition in Nigeria by improving budgetary allocations, releasing and cash backing those allocations while ensuring transparency and accountability in use of funds directed at addressing malnutrition.
She said there should be an extension of the current four months maternity leave for nursing mothers to six months to enable them exclusively breastfeed their babies.
Eluaka further said that, government should also prioritize Nigeria’s Food fortification agenda and ensure an improved integration of fortification regulatory monitoring into the overall food inspection system as this will go a long way in tackling the challenge of "hidden hunger" and micronutrient deficiencies in Nigeria.
They should promote climate-smart and environmentally friendly agricultural practices to preserve the Earth’s natural resources, health, and the climate while also slowing the habitat destruction that contributes to disease outbreaks.
CS-SUNN is urging the private sector to respect national food safety regulations and measures to protect food and reinforce good hygienic and food safety practices along the food chains, especially in rural areas.
The nutrition organization calls on the private sector to support and promote Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, SMEs, to stay in business. Private sector should continue to invest in sustainable resilient food systems and ensure favourable working conditions that will promote the practice of exclusive breastfeeding- establishment of creches in work places and the adoption of 6 months maternity leave to enable nursing mother’s breastfeed their infants exclusively.
CS-SUNN encourages Nigerians to increase their overall demand for nutritious food by choosing healthy, and not allowing sustainable habits to fall by the wayside, adding that, Nigerians should choose to eat diverse and healthy diets as this will promote their health and wellbeing.