Nigerian nutrition stakeholders keen to accelerate positive changes in nutrition

By Namukolo Covic, IFPRI/A4NH

Insightful stakeholder consultation and stakeholder network mapping events for the Nigeria Stories of Change in Nutrition Study were held in Abuja on 14 and 15 May 2019, respectively.

Both were integral parts of the data collection process for the study that is part of the Transform Nutrition West Africa project supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in collaboration with Ibadan University.

The study aims to understand nutrition changes in Nigeria since 2008, as well as the anticipated future (to 2025) changes and challenges, based on existing evidence and stakeholder perceptions.

Participating institutions for the consultation and the individuals for the stakeholder network mapping were purposively selected through institution and actor-generation processes of the study’s research approach. Highly interactive activities were used to obtain stakeholder perceptions on how nutrition is being addressed in Nigeria that led to identifying stakeholder needs that the Stories of Change study could address; understanding the relationships among nutrition implementing stakeholders and how this can affect the success or failure of nutrition policy and programmes; and introducing the stories of change study to the stakeholders.

Dr Chris Isokpunwu, the Scaling-Up-Nutrition (SUN) focal person and Head of the Nutrition Division at the Federal Ministry of Health gave a presentation on trends of different nutrition indicators across different Geopolitical Zones. While there has been some progress in reducing stunting over the past decade, this was indicated to be slow and not uniform across the country, with some states having experienced stunting reductions and others have experienced increases in stunting.

Mrs Nduku Nelson, the Deputy Director for Food and Nutrition from the Ministry of Budget and Planning focused on nutrition coordination. Nigeria is a high burden country for undernutrition and because of its large population more than half of all under 5 stunted children in West Africa are in Nigeria.  Participants discussed that the significant attention to the northern parts of the country facing crises due to militant insurgency seems to have come at the cost of reversing of progress in some parts of the south. The need to give adequate attention to all parts of the country was therefore highlighted. Participants requested that the Stories of Change research team consider exploring the situation before 2008 on salt iodization and vitamin A supplementation as they felt there would be useful lessons to be learned.

The stories of change team obtained a better understanding of the key nutrition stakeholders in Nigeria and the relevant challenges to accelerating change on nutrition. The discussions were very robust, generating a lot of information for further analysis. The discussions reflected that structures have been put in place as part of the institutional arrangements for nutrition coordination and policy implementation and effectively operationalizing these structures could help with operationalization of policies and programmes. These include the inauguration of the National Council on Nutrition and setting up of Committees on Food and Nutrition at national, state, local government area and ward levels.

Some states were doing better than others in operationalizing the coordination structures and there can also be differences in the institutional administrative arrangements in those states where this has happened. In the end it may not matter how the administrative arrangements are set up at the state, local government or ward level if there is effective functionality for the given state. Limited funding was identified as a significant factor preventing adequate scaling up of nutrition interventions at all levels.

Participants expressed appreciation for the learning they had experienced by participating in the consultation and stakeholder network mapping and indicated looking forward to the outcome of the Stories of Changes study. Participants also expressed appreciation for the documents shared from the work done by the Transform Nutrition West Africa project, the evidence note on Nutrition Policy in Nigeria and the Country Data Profile.

The Ministry of Budget and National Planning shared copies of the National Policy on Food and Nutrition in Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development shared copies of the Agricultural Sector Food Security and Nutrition Strategy 2016 – 2025.