Deepening nutrition through agriculture

The federal government has re-inaugurated the inter-ministerial agriculture working committee on nutrition and food security. The 35-man committee is charged with working out modalities to mitigate malnutrition among others. JOHN OBA reports.

March 2015, the federal government inaugurated the inter-ministerial agriculture/nutrition working group with the aim of building on the strengths of nutrition stakeholders, systems and capacities to facilitate a shift in how malnutrition is understood and addressed, so that coordinated strategies and joint interventions for prevention of malnutrition can occur.

The then committee could not really function because of the lack of high level policy engagement towards creating the conducive and supportive environment for the promotion of nutrition sensitive agriculture in Nigeria.
According to experts, food consumption is closely linked to nutrition, since adequate food is required in the right proportion and quality for good nutrition and health. He added that the quality of food is determined by its composition of macro and micro-nutrients as well its safety.
Though nutrition experts has not yet managed to foster the necessary level of coordination, barriers such as low political commitment and space for new ways of working; limitations of existing routines and structures within sectors; weak coordinating bodies; lack of human resources; and inadequate strategic, management and technical capacity have been the bane.

Hence the need for the government to reintroduce inter-sectoral coordination which is crucial to addressing malnutrition. because making available necessary nutrition to the health situation of the majority of the citizens, and the determinants of nutritional status which are adequate food, health and care, and the goods and services that is related to these will be available from a range of sectors.
Re-inaugurating the Inter-Ministerial Agriculture/Nutrition Working Group (IANWG) in his conference hall last Thursday, Chief Ogbeh, said since food is the best medicine to the body and could also be the worst poison if not properly managed, the government is making concerted efforts at sensitizing the citizens on the importance of healthy eating as part of ways to reduce food poisoning among the masses.
“The issue is how to discover, how to eat, what to eat, when to eat and when not to eat because otherwise we simply ingest things which harm our health and compromise the capacity of this country both mental and physical. We also have to deal with an increasing crisis in the food sector where there is a great deal of self poison in our diet,” he explained.

He lamented the increase rate of metal poison in food through plastic packaging, which according to him is over and above the problem of difficulty and efficiency in diet, proteins, vitamins which are lacking in many homes because all people can afford is high volume of carbohydrates.
“How do we educate our people on this subject, how do we persuade our people to change their eating habits? That is an issue we have to tackle, to take some interest in eating food like beans, fruits.”
He also bewailed the eating habits of Nigerians, saying when children have no access to milk, eggs, chicken and beef because it is beyond their reach, leading to stunting and malnourish which is currently affecting about 37% of Nigeria children.
“When you come up with formula for solving this problem, the next stage will be publicity and education of the public. We have to begin with the vulnerable children and women,” he said.
He encourage the members saying the assignment they have is a very serious one, though may not attract headlines because most Africans don’t pay attention to serious issues.
“Take this matter very seriously, give us the advice we need and as a ministry we shall intensify our cooperation with the ministries of Health, Women Affairs, Science and Technology and other agencies that we recognize will play a major role in improving our health as a people.
“Now that we are attaining self-sufficiency in rice, let learn from Japan by not growing rice on the same parcel of land year in year out. There is a lot more in acquiring self-sufficiency in rice, we have to educate our farmers to do more of crop rotation. We will do the same in maize. So it is not about planting and growing them. It is about incorporating the science of production to make what we eat harmless to our health, nutritive and better for better to consume. So your assignment will go beyond just nutrition, you will begin to deal with issues of food and health.

Speaking on the mandate of the committee, the Senior adviser to the Minister on Food Security and Nutrition, Dr. Adeyinka Onabolu, clarifying the objectives of the committee said the inter-ministerial working group on agriculture and nutrition numbering about 34 members that cut across several ministries, department and agencies, development partners, agricultural business individual, private sector, are to work around programmes that will ensure that agricultural productivity is increased, paid attention to nutrition while addressing issues around food safety and residues in agric produce, such as axenic among others.
“Already, the committee members have been grouped into four to address specific issues. The first group is addressing increasing food production and access, the second is increasing food security and safety while the third group is to address care and proper eating, and looking at nutrition research, information sharing and the last group is addressing building institutional capacity and facilitating enabling environment for all the works that need to be done.

“The working group is set up to help the ministry to implement the food nutrition strategy which the ministry has developed in response to the food and nutrition policy of the nation,” she said.
On monitoring the achievement of the committee, she said there is already a monitoring and evaluation strategy set out to know the sector response to the food policy, “so we already have indicators for monitoring each and every one of the priority areas of the strategy.”
She clarified the fear that the committee’s work will clash with the responsibility of NAFDAC, saying the committee will be working with agencies like NAFDAC to regular issues around food safety, since the committee will be working with primary producers on ways to ensure that their food comply with the standard already set at the SON.