President of the Aliko Dangote Foundation, Aliko Dangote has called for the removal of import duty on the micronutrient premixes used in fortification of staple foods even as expressed worry that Nigeria face scarcity in the supply of some food materials that are majorly imported from Russia and Ukraine in three months due to the ongoing war in the region.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Dr Ehanire Osage has also tasked industry leaders on the need to produce micronutrients locally considering the growing population of the country.
The duo spoke during the 4th Annual Nigerian Food Processing Nutrition Leadership Forum held in Lagos which has in attendance, the Ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, Budget, Finance and National Planning represented by the permanent secretary, Mrs. Olusola Idowu, and the Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye among other leaders.
The forum was organised by the Aliko Dangote Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and TechnoServe, under the Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF) programme.
The SAPFF Programme, according to the organizers was designed to address the lingering challenges in the food fortification sector using a market-based approach to assist over 90 food processors to increase their capacity to produce and sell fortified foods to local markets.
Dangote said it was necessary for the Federal government to remove the import duty to reduce their cost of production.
Speaking further while fielding questions from journalists, Dangote said that in the next three months, Nigeria might experience scarcity of wheat flour, maize flour and also fertilizers as Russia and Ukraine are the major suppliers of these food materials to Nigeria.
Dagote added that to prevent the unfortunate situation, there was need to ban exportation of maize.
He said: “The issue is that there will be a shortage of wheat and a lot of products because as we speak a lot of fertilizers are imported from these countries.
“Russia and Ukraine do almost 13 per cent of the world’s urea and 26 per cent of the world’s potash and then phosphate fertilizers.
“There will be a scarcity of food because generally, people will not be able to access fertilizers going forward. We will not see the effect now but in the next two or three months, even the US will not be able to grow the same number of plants they did last year because of this.
“I agree with you that we need to sit down and have a discussion about this. Because right now you’ll start seeing people exporting maize which I think we need to stop so we don’t create shortages domestically and we really need to make sure that we grow more so that we don’t have a shortage of food.”
Responding to the request by Dangote, the Minister of Health, Dr Ehanire Osagie said: while they will look at the issue critically, it was necessary for the leaders to find how they can manufacture these micronutrients locally.
“Because with our own population growing more than 200 million, instead of relying on importation of these micronutrients, let’s look at the market opportunity that exists in the African market of these products and APIs while we speak to minister of finance on the reduction of import duty on micronutrients.”
He said the Federal Government will continue to support efforts at fortifying foods with micronutrients.
Ehanire said food fortification was an important pillar of health strategy, noting that it assists in disease prevention and health promotion.
He said that government would broaden the scope of inculcating micronutrients in foods to stem the tide of malnutrition arising from lack of micronutrients. According to him, “Food fortification is a very important strategy because it is critical for the prevention of certain diseases.
“In the absence of certain nutrients, certain diseases can come up but are also important for health promotion to a healthier citizenry which is very important to human capital development. So, we shall do all that we can in the health sector to support initiatives to improve access to micronutrients and support the industry.”
Corroborating their views, the Chief Executive Officer of Flour Mills of Nigeria, Mr. Boye Olusanya called for urgent action to mitigate against the looming crisis, adding that Russia and Ukraine are numbers one and five in wheat exportation in the world while Nigeria relies heavily on them for the food product.
Also, responding, NAFDAC Director General, Prof Christianah Adeyeye, said the agency was working towards setting up fat and oil regulation committee to tackle the challenges of Trans fat in the country.
Speaking, Bill Gates, Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who participated virtually, noted that large-scale food fortification was one of the most effective tools to ensure people get the vitamins and minerals they need to thrive.
“As we look to support an equitable recovery from the pandemic, countries and communities will need to deploy proven solutions to promote cognitive development, school performance, productivity, and earning potential.”
Speaking, Chief Executive Officer, TechnoServe, Mr William Warshauer said that progress had improved since SAPFF programme started, in spite some setbacks over the past year.
Warshauer said that data released by the firm demonstrated sustained fortification compliance for some key micronutrients and a decline for others.
He said that data released by the firm showed compliance levels for salt fortified with iodine was sustained at more than 90 per cent.
He noted that compliance levels for edible oil fortified with vitamin A increased from 25 per cent in 2018 to 33 per cent in 2020 and further improved to 49 per cent by the end of 2021.
According to him, compliance levels for wheat flour fortified with vitamin A, vitamin B3, and iron increased from 56 per cent in 2018 to 64 per cent in 2021. He further disclosed that the rating was a drop from the 93 per cent recorded in 2020.