By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA: An International Non-Governmental Organization INGO, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition GAIN has lamented that 33 percent of Nigerian children under the age of five have stunted growth due to malnutrition.
GAIN however said the percentage was an improvement over the 41 percent recorded five years ago, but still a far cry from Ghana’s current 18 percent having had almost the same scenario with Nigeria just years ago.
Urging stakeholders to collaborate with the alliance in her bid to eradicate malnutrition and post-harvest losses, Executive Director of GAIN, Mr Lawrence Haddad added that “half of all the deaths of kids under five is linked to malnutrition”.
“It is an economic growth problem as well as a health and developmental problem. If Nigeria wants to be a big power house and an economic player in Africa and the world, it needs to invest in roads, bridges, ICT, electricity and other hard infrastructure but it has to also invest in brain infrastructure which is fed by nutrition and it is all laid down in the first couple of years of life”, he added.
At a media parley yesterday in Abuja in commemoration of its 15 years of operation, Mr Haddad added that Nigeria is confronted with the double burden of under nutrition and over nutrition.
“One in three persons in the world is affected by malnutrition and more and more countries are having what we call a double burden; they have a problem of under-nutrition, that is a problem of too little food; and they also have a problem of over-nutrition, that is, many people eating too much of the wrong kind of food. Nigeria is one of those countries. She has both of these burdens and they have bigger economic, health and mortality impacts”, he stated.
Country Director of GAIN, Dr Michael Ojo on his part said, “for many things in Nigeria, the statistics are really bad whether you are talking about child health, infant and maternal mortality and more”, but said there are positive movements in some areas as a result of the collective efforts of stakeholders.
“However, there is still a lot of work to do even in food fortification which we call an unfinished business. Just take the number of kids in Nigeria who are stunted. The (national) average is 33 percent of children under five. But going to some states in the north, it is actually more like 50 to 60 percent and for the south it could be less than 20 percent, even approaching 11 percent. So, that means that the kinds of interventions we are looking at, and the intensity of those interventions will be different from one place to another”, said Dr Ojo.
On post-harvest losses, GAIN’s Senior Project Manager on Postharvest Loss Alliance for Nutrition, Dr Augustine Okoruwa said stakeholders in nutrition have agree to develop a cold chain to ensure adequate storage and guard against the loss of micro-nutrients especially during transportation of the produce from one part of the country to the other.
He however said there were some pockets of resistance to the initiative, as farmers and transporters wanted to continue in their old ways which he said had led to substantial nutrient losses.
“There are traders who use woven baskets to move fresh produce from the north to the south. When we tried to introduce the returnable plastic crates, they were like they had been using baskets for a long time and so why did we want to give them crates? We had to do some education to let them know the cost benefit analysis; that if you use the plastic crates, you would guard against losses and the farmer would make more money rather than losing at both ends. So, we are using behavioural communication to change the mindsets of people to accept innovations and departures from the norm, things that will provide benefit to them nutritionally and economically”, he explained.