At least 53% of deaths in women and children worldwide result from malnutrition, the World Health Organisation has said. In Nigeria, the situation is even more alarming as records show that malnutrition kills 100 children and at least six women of child bearing age every hour! In many cases, they die not only because they lack food, but also essential micronutrients.
To draw attention to this problem, HarvestPlus Nigeria brings people together every year under the umbrella of the Nutritious Food Fair (NFF), where it showcases agricultural solutions emphasizing biofortified and nutritious foods. The event provides HarvestPlus and partners the opportunity to address people and further reveal how common crops like cassava, maize, and sweet potato now have the right amounts of micro-nutrients that helps forestall malnutrition and hidden hunger— a situation where the body cells do not get required micro-nutrients from food consumed.
The third edition of the annual event, themed Scaling-up nutritious food choices: Engaging everyone everywhere, specially recognised the vital role women play as drivers of health in society. It therefore trained and commissioned over 3,000 women as “Smart Mothers”.
The Smart Mothers is an initiative of HarvestPlus Nigeria that provides a platform for women as farmers, processors, and marketers of nutritious food products to lend their voices to nutrition. It is a civil society organisation operating at the community, local government, state and federal levels.
“By feeding the family right, women can help promote good health and avert prevalent and terminal illnesses in the country,” said Princess Akunna Ubosi, wife of the Speaker Enugu State House of Assembly who launched the initiative together with wives of honourable members of Enugu State House of Assembly. Princess Ubosi also expressed confidence that the initiative will further help to alleviate poverty in the State.
According to Dr Paul Ilona, Country Manager, HarvestPlus Nigeria, tackling the challenges of malnutrition requires innovative approaches that are quick and smart to address emerging limitations. Dr Ilona explained women have primary roles to play in addressing malnutrition in Nigeria. He said unless women were trained to make nutrition sensitive decisions, malnutrition cannot be eradicated in the country.
“When women are empowered we normally see improvement in children’s health, education, nutrition and welfare of family members. No smart mother will know the reason why children die and allow it. A smart mother will instead give her children the opportunity to grow to full capacity, and contribute to improving her environment. Through this initiative, we want to see mothers spend less money on drugs because their food is richer and their families healthier,” he said.
Dr Ilona also applauded government policy on supplementation and food fortification noting that the biofortification agenda of HarvestPlus complements the efforts of government and other development programmes.
“Having a multipronged approach in solving a single problem is the way to go, but we must ensure that all arms contribute optimally…the contribution of HarvestPlus makes it possible for common foods like cassava, maize, orange sweet potato to become the channel for delivering the daily nutritional needs of people,” he said.
Another objective of the 2017 NFF was to unlock the full potential of the biofortified sector in job and income creation. Hands-on trainings in agronomy, processing/value addition, and marketing of vitamin A cassava and maize were offered in the bid to create at least 3000 job opportunities in the sector.
Speaking during the opening ceremonies, Hon. Anayo Agu, Special Adviser to the Enugu State Governor on Small and Medium Enterprises and Investments Promotion said the Fair will help ordinary people do extraordinary things. He commended all partners with which HarvestPlus works to advance the cause of eradicating global hidden hunger.
The 2017 NFF took place at the Michael Okpara Square, Enugu State on 28—30 November and showcased the latest automated planters, roasters, pneumatic pressers, graters, and flash dryers, among others. It was attended by more than 7,000 people overall including members of the National Assembly, speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly, Special Advisers to the Governor of Enugu State, wives of State honourable members, women and youth groups, along with representatives from the Dangote Foundation, TechnoServe, Ashoka, SUN Business Network, DFID-MADE, NEXIM Bank, and the international community.
HarvestPlus is a model for multi-partner, global research intervention where researchers have successfully used conventional breeding techniques to introduce vitamin A into cassava, maize, and sweet potato. Soon, zinc rice, iron and zinc sorghum and iron millet will be included into Nigeria’s biofortified food basket.
HarvestPlus is funded by DFID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and USAID.