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Protein Deficiency: Stakeholders Call For Improved Food Security, Nutrition Education

Food security, nutrition education and the need to increase the nation’s budget for health and nutrition emerged as some of the issues that dominated conversations at the latest Protein Challenge webinar designed  to address the problem of protein deficiency in Nigeria. The webinar, themed: ‘The UN Decade of Action on Nutrition – Connecting the Dots for Nigeria’, held on Friday, August 21, 2020. 

The webinar was organized as a part of the Nigeria Protein Deficiency Awareness Campaign (Protein Challenge), which is a media campaign to create awareness about the challenge of protein deficiency in Nigeria, and to mobilise relevant stakeholders to collaborate in mitigating the problem.

A discussant, Foyinsola Oyebola, who is a social development expert with over 25 years of experience, stated that Nigeria is facing a nutrition crisis on multiple fronts, especially with rising levels of food insecurity. She noted that the crisis was fueled, among other things, by the current security challenges which have threatened food security, along with a low level of awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly as it pertains to SDG 2 – Zero Hunger and poverty – and the weak monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and restrictions to limit the spread of the virus have also exacerbated the challenge, she observed.

To connect the dots, Oyebola said that there was an urgent need to bridge the gap between policy statements and implementation at all levels of governance and to mainstream the SDG 2 into State and Local Government programmes. SDG 2 seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition as well as promote sustainable agriculture. 

“There should be effective coordination of, and collaboration amongst, all stakeholders in the nutrition space, to educate Nigerians on local sources of protein, where to get them and most importantly how to prepare them such that the nutritional value is not lost”, she added.

Another discussant, Collins Akanno, a community nutritionist and founder of Diet 234 (a resource for healthy nutrition and inspiration), said that to attain the SDG nutrition goals, individuals had to be given adequate education. He argued that it wasn’t enough just to be able to afford food, as not all foods are nutritious. 

He revealed that he conducted an online survey recently and the result indicated that the majority of people do not know that proteins can be gotten from plants. He remarked that many Nigerians don’t know how to organise a healthy eating plate – a healthy eating plate refers to how food portions should be sectioned in a typical meal.  

According to Akanno, “The truth is that healthy eating is not rocket science. People just need to be educated on sourcing for the right foods and benefits of nutrition-dense foods.”

Remmy Nweke, National Coordinator, Media Centre Against Child Malnutrition (MeCAM) called for an increase in the country’s health budget, with emphasis on nutrition. He explained that a portion of the nutrition budget should be channeled to public enlightenment campaigns on nutrition.  

According to Nweke, “I agree that people need to be educated about nutrition, the importance of proteins and the hazards of malnutrition. These campaigns can be taken around the country and translated into various indigenous Nigerian languages, with special attention on women as champions of the cause”.

Nweke insisted that there was an urgent need to review the school feeding programme, boost small-holder farmers and improve nutritional status of mothers, infants and young children, nationwide.

The webinar session was moderated by Martha Okpeke, a Development Enthusiast and Public Relations Practitioner. 

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