Experts urge Nigerians to return to local foods, home gardening, to curb malnutrition

Experts have urged Nigerians to return to locally available foods and engage in home gardening in order to guarantee food security and prevent protein deficiency.

This, they say, will ensure an adequate supply of food at all levels, and also put an end to malnutrition.

This call was made by a panel of nutritionists and medical doctors during the Protein Challenge Webinar Series 4, with the theme: ‘Protein Deficiency in a Pandemic’ held on Thursday, September 24, 2020.

Dr Beatrice Oganah-Ikujenyo (PhD), Nutritionist and Chief Lecturer, Department of Home Economics, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Oto-Ijanikin, Lagos, said that it was important for people to go back to those foods which are abundant in these climes but are underexploited.

She said: “We need to go back to foods like cocoyam, sesame seeds, locust beans, groundnut, melon, edible maggots, African pear (ube), leafy vegetables and soybeans. All these foods are loaded with proteins and healthy elements which can stem malnutrition.”

She explained that foods do not necessarily have to be expensive to be healthy, noting that people should buy and eat foods based on the food group pyramid which consists of energy-giving foods (50-60%), proteins (15-29%), micronutrients (7-9%) and fibre (2%). She advised individuals to adopt cooking practices which help retain the nutrients in the foods such as steaming, roasting, baking, boiling and braising.

On access to nutrient-rich foods, she encouraged people to engage in home gardening to augment what has to be bought.

Dr. Adepeju Adeniran, a clinical and public health physician, said that there was likely an increase in the malnutrition rate with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The lockdown meant food production, supply and domestic food security was affected. Anything that affects any of these factors will eventually affect malnutrition. The food supply chain was severely threatened: farmers, transporters and food sellers were restricted in movements, availability of food groups dropped, prices of food went up and household earnings went down”, she said.

She added that there was a need for farmers to be secure, fertilizers to be subsided, loans made available for buying lands for farming and ease of transportation from the rural areas to the urban areas. She also said that farm produce should be properly stored and protected from pests. All these, she said, will balance out equity.

Speaking on Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM), Dr Monica Omo-Irefo, a Principal Medical Officer, Asokoro General Hospital, Abuja, noted that this form of malnutrition could be life-threatening if not properly managed. She said: “Also known as severe acute malnutrition, PEM affects nearly 20 million children under the age of 5. Around 45 per cent of deaths among children under the age of 5 years are linked to malnutrition. There are three kinds of PEM – kwashiorkor, marasmus and marasmic kwashiorkor.”

According to her, this form of malnutrition can be treated using locally available foods such as Kwash-Pap, Dietrend and RUTF. “Kwash-Pap is made using raw guinea corn pap, raw egg, banana, sugar, oil and milk. Dietrend is maize, groundnut and soybeans. While RUTF (Ready to Use Therapeutic Food) is made up of milk, peanuts, sugar, vitamins and minerals. All these have been tried and tested methods of treating malnutrition”, she said.

The webinar was moderated by Dr Ndubuisi Obasi, Resident Medical Officer, Brighton Nuffield Hospital, UK.

He added that to prevent malnutrition, individuals should eat more starchy foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, more fish and proteins from plant sources, such as soybeans.

The webinar focused on creating awareness about options to effectively combat the challenge of protein deficiency in Nigeria, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protein Challenge is a media campaign designed to create awareness about the prevalence and dimensions of the challenge of Protein Deficiency in Nigeria, to galvanize all relevant stakeholders to collaborate in providing solutions to the problem, so that `Nigerians can live healthier and more productive lives. It is a protein pull media campaign supported by the United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and other partners.

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