Nutrition in Nigeria’s Pathways to Food Systems Transformation

The UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), held on 23‒24 September 2021 (and all the related preparations), was a mammoth effort to galvanize stakeholders around the food systems agenda, with a view to accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. The summit also propelled a series of follow-up action for stakeholders to take forward, including through new coalitions on specific topics such as healthy diets.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and yet home to the second highest population of stunted children in the world, has strongly embedded nutrition in its food systems transformation approach, from its FSS dialogues that attracted over 4,000 participants to its official statement at the summit and its ensuing vision of National Pathways to Food Systems Transformation. In this interview, colleagues from four UN agencies and the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in-country describe how this has provided a golden opportunity to advocate for nutrition and ensure that the ongoing shift will deliver good nutrition for Nigerians.

Contributions provided by: Abubakar Suleiman, Assistant FAO Representative and Ibrahim Isiaka, Nutrition Specialist at FAO; Florence Iseko and Mariatu Kamara at IFAD; Nemat Hajeebhoy, Chief of Nutrition, Chizoba Steve-Edemba, Nutrition Specialist, and Nkeiruka Enwelum, Nutrition Officer, at UNICEF; and Darline Raphael, Head of Nutrition at WFP Nigeria.

Q1: How is nutrition reflected in Nigeria’s Food Systems Transformation Pathway?

Nutrition is reflected in Nigeria’s Food Systems Pathway as an integral part of all six action clusters. There is a focus on: (1) facilitating increased consumption of diverse, nutritious and safe foods at the household level; (2) enabling improved food access through increasing food production; and (3) conducting research (e.g. on traditional crops). Some of the priority actions for ministries across federal state and local governments to enable multi-sectoral delivery of nutrition-specific and sensitive programming in the country include:

  • Integrate nutrition and food systems education into curricula at primary, secondary and tertiary levels;
  • Develop a nutrient profiling system to guide food labelling, nutrition/health claims and marketing;
  • Support the development of Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG) and integrate FBDG and nutrition education into service delivery at all levels;
  • Promote cultivation of improved crop varieties as well as biofortified crops;
  • Monitor and enforce compliance with food safety and nutrition standards in food service outlets at all levels;
  • Digitize nutrition education through games, apps, infographics, social media and other channels; and
  • Expand social protection programmes to provide healthy, safe and sustainable diets to poor communities and in humanitarian emergencies.
Q2: How did the UN agencies come together to support government in embedding nutrition in the national FSS pathway and subsequent follow-up action?

The UN’s support to the National Food Systems Summit Dialogues (FSSD) in Nigeria was coordinated by the office of the Resident Coordinator (RCO). The RCO led various UN agencies (including FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO) in providing technical and financial support to the government in mainstreaming nutrition into the FSSD and serving as members of the National Food Systems Core Team along with other development partners.

During the dialogues, UN agencies ensured that the discussions included nutrition issues that the country is facing, including undernutrition, overnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, while also ensuring attention to vulnerable population groups (under5s, women and adolescent girls and displaced populations). The UN agencies also highlighted food safety, food insecurity and dietary transition as issues that affect the nutrition situation of the country.

Specifically, UN agencies helped organize, facilitate and support government dialogues as well as independent dialogues.

  • FAO conducted a scoping analysis on the food systems across all six geo-political zones in Nigeria, which enabled the characterization of the sub-national food systems and provided information for the exploratory dialogue discussions nationwide. FAO also facilitated some of the government exploratory dialogues and organized a food systems assessment for the FSSD, in consultation with other stakeholders, to determine the sectoral priorities for advancing/transforming the food systems.
  • IFAD led the rural dialogue, which focused on integrating rural stakeholders into the FSSD to ensure adoption of an aggressive rural-focused approach to solving global hunger. Concrete actions were discussed for fighting hunger and malnutrition as well as strategies to reduce poverty and enhance the resilience and sustainability of food production and security.
  • UNICEF advocated for the inclusion of children’s voices in the FSSD proceedings as they make up 110 million (over 50%) of the total population of Nigeria. UNICEF organized the only dialogue that centered on children and facilitated sub-national level discussions with children on food systems across the country. UNICEF also facilitated children’s participation and a presentation to the Vice President at the consolidatory dialogue.
  • WFP, IFAD and FAO jointly provided a funding facility to support the inception, exploratory and consolidatory dialogues.

In addition, UN agencies organized a technical session where the FSS Pathway was finalized and ensured that both nutrition-sensitive and specific recommendations were included at all levels.

Post-summit support includes collaboration with the Vice President’s Office to disseminate the priority actions to the sub-national levels [and] a high-level meeting between the National Council for Nutrition and the National Executive Council (NCN-NEC). The Vice President in Nigeria is the Chair of both the NCN and the NEC. UN agencies are also in discussions to support the government in operationalizing the food systems actions/recommendations.

Q3: Since the UNFSS in September, how have things progressed in regard to nutrition?

In October, the NCN-NEC meeting was a good opportunity for the Vice President to officially present the Food Systems Transformation Pathways document to state governors and call for increased attention towards the post-FSS commitments. Since the Summit in September, Nigeria has joined the following coalitions to catalyse actions for the food systems in the country:

Q4: What activities are foreseen for 2022?

The aim is for states to adopt and commence implementation of the FSS commitments. As part of three priorities for 2022, the government will promote the uptake of the Operation Feed Yourself initiative to improve nutrition at household level through dietary diversification. This helps households access information and inputs for homestead food production to feed their families. UN agencies are also aligned to the government’s post-summit commitments and remain on standby to support Operation Feed Yourself and other priority actions to transform the Nigerian food systems to become more nutrition-sensitive.

Other key activities for 2022 include the implementation of the government’s immediate priority plans at all levels. The priority plans include a focus on the following:

  • Regularly collect and disseminate (through radio and other platforms) information about weather patterns and soil properties and best practices for crops, livestock, aquaculture and poultry production to inform food production decisions for each rainy and dry season.
  • Establish farm settlements made-up of groups of smallholder producers, including women/youth, and use settlements to increase input supply, machinery hiring, extension and other services, and market access.

Furthermore, the Federal Ministry of Budget, Finance and National Planning is conducting a Fill the Nutrient Gap (FNG) analysis in Nigeria with technical support from the World Food Programme (WFP), to be finalized in 2022. Using a systems approach, the FNG identifies bottlenecks across the food system that result in inadequate dietary intake, and ultimately, malnutrition with an emphasis on the availability and affordability of nutritious foods. The FNG is designed to contribute to national policy, programming and planning across different sectors and will support Nigeria’s National Multi-Sectoral Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition (2021–2025) as well as the commitments for food systems transformation.

Photo credits:
Photo 1: © UNICEF/Esiebo
Photo 2: © UNICEF/Owoicho

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