The Global Panel, an independent group of influential experts, recently unveiled a report on improving nutrition through improved food and diet, reports Olawale Ajimotokan
 
With backing of the UK Government and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition recently launched in Nigeria the Foresight Report that highlighted the severity of the global food crisis.
The report was compiled in Rome, Italy, last year after an intensive research. It revealed that more than three billion people from around the world are imperilled by malnutrition from the consumption of less nutritious diets.
It said that more than two billion people have insufficient vitamins and minerals, while incidences of obesity and overweight are on the rise in many regions, engendering concern about the rise of diet-related non-communicable diseases including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancers.
The Global Panel is an independent group of influential experts that is committed to tackling global challenges in food and nutrition security. The panel of 12 individuals is co-chaired by former President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor and the former UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser, John Beddington.
Some selected people on the board include President, African Development Bank, Akinwunmi Adesina; President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Agnes Kalibata; Director General Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), Tom Arnold; President, Public Health Foundation of India, Srinath Reddy; and DG Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Jose Graziano da Silva.
An expert in Kinetics and the head of Global Panel secretariat, Prof. Sandy Thomas spearheaded the launch in Nigeria of the policy document titled: ‘Improving Nutrition through Enhanced Food Environments’ and to propagate the work of the panel to ensure that agriculture and food systems support access to nutritious foods at every stage of life.
The unveiling of the ‘Foresight’ research report was preceded by the launch of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Agricultural Sector Food Security and Nutrition Strategy 2016-25.
The Nigerian strategy recognised the severity of malnutrition in Nigeria across all the geopolitical zones, which it noted is disproportionately higher in the North-west and North-east. It makes case for a national approach in addressing the diverse challenges of malnutrition, in ways that prioritise high prevalence areas across the zones.
With at least five per cent of global burden of under-nutrition in Nigeria, and more than 14 million malnourished children, it is expedient for government to recognise that addressing malnutrition is indispensable for economic and social development.
The Nigerian agricultural sector has eight interrelated priority areas that will enhance and improve value chains for improved nutrition, diversify food consumption by targeting women and increase access to micronutrient rich foods and promoting nutrition research and information system.
Others are to improve the agricultural sector capacity to address food security problem, nutrition surveillance and monitoring, nutrition education, social marketing and advocacy, promotion of nutrition research and information system and using food system to build resilience and protection for vulnerable groups.
The Foresight report gave a frightening projection for Nigeria as consequence for habitual consumption of unhealthy foods, projecting that the number of people suffering from Type 2 diabetes will double from 3.1 million to 6.1 million from 2011-2030.
It noted that Type 2 diabetes was an increasing non-communicable and cardiovascular disease which obese or overweight people were prone to in Nigeria. It is estimated that globally about two billion people are suffering from obesity.
The panel submitted that the risk is elevated by micronutrient deficiency, increase in ready to eat meals, snacks, sugar sweetened beverages, chocolates and ice cream plus a spike in ultra-processed food consumption such hot dogs, burgers, French fries among others.
Aside diabetes, the committee said failure to deliver secure and high-quality diets has resulted in child wasting in Nigeria, creating eight per cent stunted growth which affects almost one in three children in North-west and North-east, while 1 in 2 women of reproductive age are anaemic.
“South Africa is a good example of country that is seeing some of the effects which high rate of diabetes and cardiovascular disease can create. We hope Nigeria can make choices about how to shape its food environments by drawing from similar cases like Mali, U.S., Mexico, UK and South Korea,” Thomas stressed.
She further echoed the need for transformation of the country’s food environment in a way that promotes diversity, availability and safety of nutritious foods, while appealing to government to curb food advertising and sales promotions to children as evidence has shown that food marketing to Nigerian children can influence their food and beverage preferences.
Some of the actions recommended for healthier food environments in Nigeria include, paying more attention to nutritious crops like fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts, the imposition of taxes to make the food environment where food is bought more conducive.
In addition, she called on government to restrict marketing and promotion of food products to children in line with WHO recommendation and extending the reach of more nutritious reformulated products.
The panel also suggested eating of fortified crops to boost micronutrients, provision of high quality foods in public schools and shaping of fiscal incentives.
In a chat with THISDAY, Prof. Baffour Agyeman-Duah, the chief executive officer of John Agyeman Kufuor Foundation, said the former president was motivated to set up his own foundation in pursuit of the vision that Africa’s development is in the hands of Africans. He also believes the continent cannot indefinitely depend on external donations and charity to survive.
Kufuor thinks that if Africans succeeded in solving their nutrition problem, then more than half of the money which otherwise would have been spent on health is recovered, adding from the Global Panel report, the risk of nutrition, malnutrition in Africa outweighs the combined risk of malaria, HIV and tobacco .
Agyeman-Duah said Kufour is passionate about agriculture because he saw the other side of the sector as the fulcrum for Africa’s development. The former president believed that African countries will be missing a real opportunity for underlying development if agriculture which accounts for more than 75 per cent of African population is neglected.
“He (Kufuor) thinks all African countries should develop effective strategies to overcome their agricultural issues going forward without leaving out nutrition. He is aware that most African countries produce much than we can even consume, but we are wasteful because of poor management. We don’t get good result but more importantly we don’t place emphasis on nutrition, so it is important that whatever we produce, we have to look at the whole chain of production in agriculture for instance,” Agyeman-Duah, a former Adviser to the UN on Governance elucidated.
He lauded the nine-year Nigerian food and nutrition strategy, describing it as forward looking and adding that though previous policy interventions in agricultural and nutrition strategy by government were unsuccessful, there was a willingness to eliminate bureaucracy and promote a healthier food environment.
Agyeman-Duah, who founded a policy think-tank in Ghana called the Centre for Democratic Development, also inferred that Ghana was also confronted with similar challenges in different ways.
He appealed to both West African nations to engage in mutual learning, ensure political leadership and remove bureaucracy which remains a stumbling block in the march towards safer food and nutrition system.
He also stressed the importance of the entire food value chain, spanning production processing, packaging and marketing, not leaving out quality control to mitigate the rejection of products labelled for export.
According to Agyeman-Duah, Ghanaian Government introduced a new policy called ‘Planting for Food and Job’ to tackle unemployment and the migration of young people from rural to urban centres in search of job.
He advised Nigeria to evolve similar agricultural policy that provides incentives like availability of electricity, water and decent shelters that will attract young people to leave the cities and settle in the rural area.
But Thomas, who is working in the field of science policy, admitted she was struck by the quality of the contemporary strategy on food system approach produced by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. She said the document was in alignment with the Foresight Report.
She, however, expressed reservation about the ability of Nigeria and its partners in public and private sector to implement the strategies they were developing due to limitation of resources.
“We had a really wide ranging discussions about challenges of implementing those strategies. How do you get down to state level, local level in terms of administering this policy, funding and coordinating them? These are things that people feel Nigeria and many other countries need to be better at. Such is the challenge where there is always a shortage of resource. But there are many willing hands and partners and I think we should be optimistic about taking a stronger course on nutrition in the next decade and being able to marshal the resource, persuade finance ministers because the economic data are compelling at the ratio of 16-1, which means for every dollar you invest you get 16 dollars back,’’ Thomas said.
She admonished Nigeria of consequence of business as usual approach to its food system policy, stressing people needed to eat healthy and balanced diet and more fruits and vegetables, which can be made available and affordable through subsidies.
“Nigeria is a very big, resourceful country and the largest economy in Africa. So it is very important to show leadership, particularly in the West African region. Cheap food imports coming in here means people have to think hard about the kind of crops they grow or export or consume. So all the pressures are the same about other countries, but I think Nigeria with its emphasis on agriculture, its natural resources and the leadership it is showing now has the real opportunity to lead and also to take people along but I think first you will only be able to do that once you are really sure of implementing and that can’t happen overnight,” she said.