NIGERIA – Experts have advocated for large-scale rice fortification in Nigeria as a measure to provide crucial micronutrients to the population, aiming to combat anemia.
This was highlighted at an event in Lagos themed “High-Level Stakeholders Roundtable on Rice Fortification”.
Rice fortification, which is the process of adding essential vitamins and minerals to rice after it has been harvested, has been a discussion in recent times as rice consumption in Nigeria has been on a surging trend.
However, the World Health Organisation classifies Nigeria as having a high burden of both stunting and wasting. UNICEF, on the other hand, estimates that two million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition.
According to the 2023 Cadre Report, malnutrition has remained a major issue in Nigeria, affecting over 35 million children under age five, with 12 million stunted, three million wasted, and 23.5 million anemic. 17.7 million hungry people, with a million suffering from acute food insecurity.
During the round-table discussion, Seun Elere, the Project Coordinator of Rice Fortification for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, emphasized the high impact of anaemia on pregnancy, putting women at risk of maternal mortality.
He pointed out statistics from the National Demographics and Health Survey of 2018, which revealed the prevalence of anaemia among under-5 children, women of reproductive age, and pregnant women.
Elere stressed the importance of fortifying rice with iron, folic acid, and B12 to deliver essential micronutrients, particularly to those in rural communities, in order to reduce the prevalence of anaemia.
He also highlighted the increased risks associated with anaemia, such as prenatal mortality, premature birth, and low birth weight.
“Deficiency in iron impacts negatively on the production of red blood cells, which help in oxygen circulation in the body. Women and adolescent girls are at higher risk of iron deficiency due to the monthly menstrual flows, and insufficient intake of iron.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Leonie van der Stijl, the Deputy Consul General of the Netherlands in Lagos, underscored the need for fortified nutrients in rice for better overall health, as unfortified rice may offer limited nutritional value.
In 2021, the Federal Government of Nigeria sanctioned the inclusion of supplements for food fortification on the approved list, aiming to tackle the growing issues of micronutrient deficiency in Nigeria.
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and the United Nations World Food Programme extended essential assistance to the FGN via the Federal Ministry of Health to enhance the adoption and expansion of rice fortification initiatives in Nigeria.
This collaboration with the Ministry of Health was facilitated through the Promoting Rice Fortification in Nigeria project.
In October 2023, Nigeria officially launched fortified rice pilot production in Kebbi state, Northwestern part of the country.
Launching the project, the Nigerian Cordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr Muhammad Pate said the event signified the beginning of renewed hope in voluntary rice fortification in Nigeria.
According to him, remarkable achievements had been made in ensuring compliance with fortification standards by the industry to improve the quality of fortified foods.
He said beyond food fortification, other nutrition strategies and intervention adopted by the government to curb the increasing rates of micronutrient deficiency include, dietary supplementation, micronutrient supplementation, infant and young children feeding, biofortification, industry fortification of foods.