The Civil Society-Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN) has taken a significant step forward by formally launching the ‘Increased Investment in Nutrition to Scale-Up Quality Nutrition Services’ project, which is set to make a profound impact across 19 states in Nigeria.
The Challenge: Malnutrition’s Toll on Growth and Development:
Malnutrition has cast a long shadow over the growth, development, and productivity of both individuals and the nation at large. It is a formidable cause of death, with stunting, in particular, linked to adverse outcomes such as poor brain and cognitive development, a loss of 2-3 years of schooling, poor school performance and diminished productivity in adulthood. According to the National Food Consumption and Micronutrient Survey (NFCMS) conducted in 2021, approximately eleven million (33%) of children aged under 5 years in Nigeria are stunted, while four million children (12%) are wasted with an astonishing 21 million (62%) children suffering from anemia.
The Funding Dilemma:
Nigeria possesses robust policies in the food and nutrition sector(s). However, these policy documents have struggled to fully materialize, primarily due to a lack of adequate funding. The health and nutrition sector in Nigeria has been hindered by low budgetary allocations, exemplified by the 2018 appropriation bill, which allocated only 340.456 billion naira for the Federal Ministry of Health out of a total budget of naira 8.612 trillion, representing a mere 3.95% of the overall budget. This falls far short of the commitment made by African Union Countries in the April 2001 Abuja Declaration, mandating at least 15% of the national budget to be devoted to healthcare. In addition to this, government’s failure to allocate one percent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund, despite the National Health Act becoming law in 2014 still exists.
A Collaborative Solution: The ‘Increased Investment in Nutrition to Scale-up Quality Nutrition Services’ Project:
In response to these pressing challenges, the ‘Increased Investment in Nutrition to Scale-Up Quality Nutrition Services’ project was born. This initiative represents a fruitful collaboration between UNICEF and CS-SUNN, aimed at realizing a vision of a Nigeria where every citizen has access to food and nutrition security. This project will be implemented at the national level, as well as in 19 states: Benue, Cross River, Enugu, Bayelsa, Jigawa, Sokoto, Gombe, Kebbi, Niger, Kano, Lagos, Kaduna, Adamawa, Bauchi, Katsina, Zamfara, Oyo, Borno, and Yobe. Notably, the project’s pilot phase has already begun in eight states: Gombe, Bayelsa, Enugu, Kebbi, Sokoto, Cross-River, Benue, and Jigawa.
Key Stakeholder Engagement and Inception Meeting:
To mark the formal kickoff of this transformative project, CS-SUNN convened an inception meeting that brought together a diverse range of stakeholders, including Civil Society, Permanent Secretaries and Directors for Key line nutrition Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), State Nutrition Officers (SNOs), Development partners like UNICEF, and academics from the eight pilot states recently in Nasarawa State. The primary objective of this meeting was to provide stakeholders with an overview of the project’s objectives and strategies, secure their buy-in, and validate the nutrition budgets for their respective states.
CS-SUNN/UNICEF Commitment and Vision:
The Chairman of CS-SUNN’s Steering Committee, Sodangi Chindo, warmly welcomed the participants and emphasized the pivotal role they play in improving nutrition outcomes within their states. He underscored the necessity for key stakeholders to work alongside CS-SUNN and UNICEF to achieve the project’s objectives.
Sunday Okoronkwo, CS-SUNN Executive Secretary, spoke about the project’s collective nature, highlighting its potential to enhance nutrition financing and parental leave policies. He stressed the importance of ensuring equitable nutrition financing and extended maternity leave for women and children in Nigeria. He firmly reiterated that better nutrition financing is a vital pillar for economic development and a catalyst for global policy achievements.
Speaking on behalf of Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF Nigeria, Nemat Hajeebhoy, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Chizoba Steve-Edemba emphasized the need for domestic resources to complement funding from donor agencies. ‘we need domestic resources to be able to augment the funding coming from the donor agencies. Government should demonstrate the commitment and political will to do this. Enabling environment like extension of paid maternity leave till six months is important to push the target of 50% up. Kaduna, Oyo, Plateau and others are already implementing the six months paid maternity leave, we want to use this project to call on others states to do this. UNICEF is partnering with CS-SUNN to give additional push so we can all speak with one voice, pull through and achieve the asks’, Chizoba said.
Project Goals and Objectives:
CS-SUNN Programme Manager, Dr. Goodness Chidi Anyanwu, outlined the project’s goals and objectives. She said the project, titled ‘Increased Investment in Nutrition to Scale Up Quality Nutrition Services in Nigeria,’ seeks to increase budget releases and utilization for nutrition programming at the federal and selected state levels. The ultimate goal is to raise the budgetary allocation from 2 million to 3 million USD by October 2024 and to have more states approve policies for civil servants to enjoy extended paid maternity leave for six months. ‘The summation of budgetary allocations in these 8 states are currently at 2 million dollars, the target is to drive increased budgetary allocation to 3 million dollars. Currently among the project states, we have zero value for the implementation of 6 months paid maternity leave, these states are to be engendered and supported to move to 6 months paid maternity leave’ she said.
A Comprehensive Implementation Strategy:
Dr. Anyanwu provided a detailed overview of the project’s implementation strategy, which includes conducting studies and baselines, research and evidence generation, forming partnerships for greater impact, capacity building, advocacy planning, delivery and communication, and establishing a robust Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning (MEAL) Mechanism. The project, she said has a one-year timeline, spanning from October 2023 to October 2024.
Research and Policy Recommendations:
Dr. Anthony Oku-Isu, from the Academic Research Network of the Scaling Up Nutrition Network Nigeria (ARN SUNN), highlighted the project’s role in generating evidences for advocacy. These, he said will be crucial in engaging policymakers and relevant stakeholders in both the public and private sectors, facilitating the implementation of well-defined, strategic, and practical interventions to enhance maternity protection in Nigeria. According to Dr. Oku-Isu, the project will involve reviewing existing maternity protection policies and practices in workplaces, healthcare institutions, and legal frameworks. It will also identify gaps and challenges in the implementation of maternity protection and develop evidence-based policy recommendations to enhance existing maternity protection laws and practices.
Media Support/State-Specific Tasks:
Odhomi Christopher from the Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation expressed a commitment to secure collaborations with the media, federal, state, and local governments to promote the project and increase its visibility.
The inception meeting also involved state-specific group work to identify key stakeholders, set tentative dates for state activities, and validate the states’ nutrition budgets. Each implementing state presented their findings and received feedback from the larger assembly. The meeting recommended learning from states where the implementation of six months paid maternity leave and match funding for improved exclusive breastfeeding rates and nutrition investments respectively have been successful. It also emphasized the need to push for the creation of nutrition departments for effective fund releases and utilization.
Abubakar Ahmad Jega, Director Planning, Ministry of Budget and Planning, Jigawa state, lauded the initiative, saying, “This is a laudable initiative, but then I know the capacity of CS-SUNN in Kebbi state. It is through CS-SUNN’s intervention that we were able to set up an association of food safety and nutrition in the state. It is through them that we were able to mobilize and advocate to the state governor to support rice fortification in Kebbi state. This initiative, in collaboration with UNICEF, is going to work and will identify the relevant stakeholders that will move his excellency to achieve the project objectives.”
Dr. Peter Uklala, Permanent Secretary, Cross River State Planning Commission, expressed his confidence, stating, “I will give CS-SUNN and UNICEF an 80% excellent mark on this collaborative effort. We can achieve this through high-level advocacy to advocate to our policymakers to improve nutrition investments in Calabar.”
Jabo Ibrahim Ali, Chairman SCFN Gombe and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Budget and Planning, Gombe, commended the initiative, saying, “This is a very commendable initiative, and I think with your step of carrying the states along, it will go a long way in addressing the challenge of malnutrition. The states sitting together and looking at the budgets with clear specific timelines on how they intend to achieve this is good. The states should be held responsible because they prepare it with the timelines.”
The Path Forward: Transformative Activities:
In the coming weeks, the project will involve a range of activities, including conducting budget trend analysis, quarterly advocacy visits to mapped stakeholders for nutrition budget releases and extended paid maternity leave, and budget tracking. Other activities include social media campaigns, capacity-building workshops on advocacy strategy and budget tracking, developing the State Nutrition Annual Operation Plan, and establishing CS-SUNN State Chapters in Benue, Cross River, and Bayelsa states.
The project’s collaborative spirit and comprehensive approach are poised to make a remarkable difference in addressing the critical issue of malnutrition and improving nutrition outcomes in Nigeria. The commitment of key stakeholders, the engagement of states, and the careful implementation of the project’s objectives are a testament to the power of collective action in the pursuit of food and nutrition-secure Nigeria.