Stakeholders in the food processing sector and development agencies are exploring new measures to improve local processing of fortified foods in Nigeria and the sub-Saharan African region, through bouillon cubes.
According to them, there is a need to deploy new strategies to drive the implementation of policies and build capacities of industrial firms to improve the production of fortified foods.
Food fortification, a process of adding vitamins and minerals to improve the nutritional quality of processed foods is often described as one of the effective public health interventions.
Presently, mandatory policies exist in Nigeria for industries to add various combinations of vitamins and minerals to all wheat flour, maize flour, sugar and vegetable oil, as well as add iodine to all salt that are processed or sold in the country.
However, several challenges exist with implementing these policies, including monitoring effective compliance of industries to these policies and the fact that these fortified food products are not easily accessed by all populations in the country, particularly in rural areas.
Already, the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in collaboration with Helen Keller International, unveiled the National Fortification Alliance (NFA) as part of measures to strengthen the NFA, assess the present status of large-scale food fortification programmes and deliberate on the potential of including bouillon cubes as a food vehicle in fortification.
To achieve this, the group formed a Country Working Group that will regularly deliberate further on bouillon fortification, including the need for government to provide guidance on voluntary bouillon fortification, which is presently being done by some bouillon producing industries in the country.
The Director, Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, NAFDAC, Sheriff Olagunju, at the meeting, said the programme was designed to target the problem of malnutrition especially the vulnerable groups such as the women, children and pregnant women in the society.
According to him, the programme was instituted by the federal government to ensure that these vulnerable groups get the right nutrition that is required of them.
“This is done by making sure that certain food vehicles are fortified. In this particular case we are targeting certain things like iodine, Vitamin A and other micronutrients. This programme will ensure that the required nutrients are delivered to these set of people”, he added.
The Regional Nutrition Director (West Africa), Helen Keller international, Akoto Osei, said the programme had gone dormant for about two years but stated that as an organization it was glad that it has been revived.
“We work across West Africa and various other countries globally. What we will love to see happening in today’s meeting is a continuation of the various efforts that have gone into food fortification in the past. We are happy with this initiative and we will be happy to see it continue, but I think a key challenge that remains is that fortified foods are not reaching the rural communities and the poor who are the most vulnerable in terms of nutrition” Osei added.
Supported with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and established in 2004 under the chairmanship of the National Planning Commission (NPC), the NFA is mandated to mobilize stakeholders and provide guidance for effective implementation of food fortification programmes to improve the nutritional status and health of the populations in Nigeria.