Transform Nutrition West Africa at the Nutrition Society of Nigeria Annual Conference

By Olutayo Adeyemi, Namukolo Covic, Folake Samuel and Roos Verstraeten

Transform Nutrition West Africa organized 2 sessions at the Nutrition Society of Nigeria Annual Conference in Abuja, September 2019. Dr Olutayo Adeyemi, who leads the data collection for Transform Nutrition West Africa’s Stories of Change project in Nigeria, made two plenary presentations. These focused on the Landscape of Nutrition Research in Nigeria that focused on World Health Assembly (WHA) Targets and on research methods that can support and accelerate progress on nutrition in Nigeria. Each of these plenary presentations resulted in vivid discussions with the audience.

Transform Nutrition West Africa encourages different research approaches, qualitative, quantitative and/or mixed methods to support positive nutrition progress.  The Stories of Change research published in a special issue of Global Food Security is an example of how the methods can be used separately or in combination as the situation demands.

Current research on WHA Targets is biased towards describing the nutritional problems with little attention to finding solutions

To date, Nigeria has made limited progress towards achieving the WHA targets. Dr. Adeyemi shared the results of a study  that was done by Transform Nutrition West Africa which mapped the number and type of research that had been done in relation to WHA indicators in Nigeria. Compared to other West African countries, large numbers of studies had been done in Nigeria in relation to the WHA nutrition indicators. However, much of these studies were biased towards describing nutritional problems and little work had been done in relation to finding solutions to the problems faced.

Key messages highlighted in the discussion was that “the academic community needs to focus on these research gaps in the future, rather than on what would advance their career within the Nigerian University system” and “efforts need to be made to indexing Nigerian journals; the Nigerian Journal of Nutritional Sciences is now officially indexed in Scopus”.

There is need to strengthen capacity for different types of research methods to contribute to accelerating progress

Dr Adeyemi also focused on different research methods to support and accelerate progress on nutrition in Nigeria. She described different approaches to nutrition research and why qualitative, quantitative, and/or mixed methods are equally important to inform progress on nutrition. It was emphasised that in order to answer why and how questions in relation to challenges experienced with different aspects of programme implementation, qualitative and mixed methods research questions are critical. TNWA’s Stories of Change work in Nigeria and elsewhere were used to illustrate that different types of research are needed. There was robust discussion on how Nigerian researchers could better engage in each of these types and it was concluded that: “a revision of the curriculum on nutrition research methods agreed by the various universities would be a useful way to move forward”, “opportunities for multidisciplinary collaborations within academia and with the programme community should be identified” and most importantly “capacity to perform these various types of research needs to be strengthened”.

The Nutrition Society of Nigeria plans to strengthen research capacity

As Nigeria’s nutrition policy environment has become richer, there is increasing need to leverage research for lesson learning to accelerate progress. Across the two plenary discussions the need to strengthen capacity of Nigerian nutrition researchers to generate the needed evidence to inform decisions that could lead to improved nutrition programme implementation emerged. Important steps identified by the audience for improving capacity included the following:
• Agree on the critical research questions that need to be answered to address malnutrition in Nigeria;
• Build and strengthen capacity to identify appropriate research methods to answer different types of research questions and conduct high quality research
• Form research consortiums;
• Engage nutrition policy and programme decision makers in research processes;
• Advocate to ensure that research findings are integrated into nutrition planning and implementation.

The Nutrition Society of Nigeria launched a new project to enhance research capacity of Nigerian nutrition researchers at the conference. This project called Engage Nutrition Academia in Nigeria (ENAN), is a three year-funded project by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has the overall objective of strengthening the mechanisms of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria to engage academia around the nutrition agenda in Nigeria. The leadership of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria remarked that both sessions summarized above, highlighted the need for the Society to possibly include capacity strengthening on research methods under the ENAN project.