The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) says it is collaborating with the Wageningen University of the Netherlands and the Federal Government to address nutritional gaps in Nigeria’s food system.
Dr. Gbassey Tarawali, the Head of IITA’s Abuja Office, said in Abuja on Monday, that the action was aimed at introducing healthier and more nutritious varieties of food crops in the country’s food system.
Tarawali, who made this known at a Technical Workshop titled, Food Systems for Healthier Diets in Nigeria: Diagnosis and Foresight, emphasised the need for policy makers to give attention to issues of nutrition in agriculture.
He said: “Nutrition is one of the major problems that we are encountering now.
“In the past, people only thought about producing food; they never took into consideration the quality of the food.
“We just ate any junk (that we could lay our hands on) without considering the productivity; but now, quality is important.
“IITA is the main implementer; IITA will be working with Wegeningen; it has the scientist and the nutritionists.
“We are going to do a lot of things in terms of analysis and introducing new varieties of food crops that are more nutritious than what people used to know.
“You will now have bio-fortified crops – crops that are more nutritious than they used to be.
“So IITA is going to play a major role in terms of providing this bio-fortified varieties, providing the research, providing the critical mass and taking the lead in this project in Nigeria.’’
The Country Leader of the programme, Dr. Busie Maziya-Dixon, explained that the workshop was to enable stakeholders to rub minds on ways to set research agenda for the food system in the country in relation to healthier diets.
Also speaking at the event, Dr. Adeyinka Onabolu, the Senior Advisor to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, described the project as timely, saying that the Federal Government had launched an agriculture food security and nutrition programme.
Onabolu said: “This programme is well-timed because even last year in May, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture launched an Agriculture Sector Food Security and Nutrition Programme and it is purely looking at nutrition in terms of the food system.
“What they are proposing to do just aligns perfectly with what the ministry has already outlined as how we are going to address nutrition issues through the food systems approach.’’
Thom Achterbosch, the Senior Researcher, Food and Nutrition Security of the Wageningen University and Research, said the programme was targeted at understanding the diet quality in Nigeria.
Achterbosch said the programme was being funded by donors under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and agencies under the food supply chain.
He said: “A diet can be good if you nourish the body with the nutrients you need. What we will do in this programme is to understand how consumption connects to the nutrients.
“We want to identify opportunities for improving the diet. What we try to do is to bring argument to the table for wider business cases around supplying healthier food to the population.’’
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the programme, known as `Food Systems for Healthier Diets in Nigeria’, is a six-year project aimed at addressing issues around nutrition in the country.