The report by WaterAid that Nigeria is home to over 10m children that are stunted should be a matter of serious concern to the government at all levels in view of its socio-economic implications for the future generation.
Nigeria is ranked second in the world behind India which is home to about 48m, even though it boasts of a higher population put at about 1.3bn. Hot on the heels of Nigeria are Pakistan, Indonesia and China in that order.
The report, entitled: “Caught Short” puts Nigeria’s figure at 10, 321,000, followed by Pakistan- 9.89m, Indonesia – 8.72m and China – 8.04m. It further revealed that out of 132 countries surveyed, 159m children under the age of five are stunted – at the ratio of one out of every four kids.
The agency also said that stunted growth in children cannot only be attributed to nutrition and gene constitution. Defining stunting at children have low height for age, an indication that children have not developed as they should, physically or cognitively, the report also said that stunting is largely irreversible after attaining the age of two.
Also as recently as 2015, the project director of Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CSSUNN), Mrs. Ngozi Onuora, sounded a similar alarm that about 11m under-five Nigerian children were stunted. The project director further said: “This means they cannot reach their full potential if Nigeria did not reverse the trend.”
She identified states like Kebbi, Jigawa and Kaduna as recording 61 per cent, 59 per cent and 57 per cent rates of stunting in children, respectively, urging that the government should start implementing the National Strategic Plan of Action and set out budget lines for nutrition sensitive sectors like ministries of Health, Agriculture and National Planning in its coordinating role to ensure that funds were made available to implement nutrition sensitive activities.
Malnutrition, one of the key factors responsible for stunted growth in children, is driven by grinding poverty afflicting majority of Nigerian families both in the rural and urban communities. Most parents breeding stunted children can hardly feed well. No parents can provide what they do not have.
In some instances, even when the right meals are available, most parents pass down small percentages of nutritional meals to their children while they corner the lion’s share in the erroneous belief that they are just kids. But the truth is that children need adequate nutritious diet in their formative years to develop well both physically and mentally, and even at conception through what their mothers consume.
The reason why many children are intellectually deficient is rooted in malnutrition. What appeared as the silver lining in the dark cloud came when two or so years ago, the federal government disclosed its plan to provide a litre of milk daily to 30m children in primary and secondary schools across the nation under the school feeding programme next year.
The minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, made the revelation during a meeting with a team from the West African Milk Company, Abuja. Chief Ogbe gave the assurance that the measure would tackle the problem of malnutrition among Nigerian children affecting their growth and development.
He quoted the UNESCO statistics stating that 24 per cent Nigerian children under the age of five were underweight, while 37 per are undernourished. We had welcomed the federal government’s initiative because we believed it would complement the scheme already in place in some states like Osun and Borno which had free feeding progammes in primary and secondary schools at the time.
Although the free school feeding fever has caught on in several states across the country, about two years down the road, the white revolution, which the milk was to represent, is yet to be added to the scheme. Nigeria is endowed with adequate resources to provide the needed nutrition for school kids.
In the 70s, most secondary schools especially in the old Northern Region had regular supplies of what was referred to as the Kennedy Powdered Milk, an American initiative to nourish the Nigerian children at their formative age. It is common knowledge that the phenomenon of malnutrition is more prevalent in the rural communities.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as relevant stakeholders have a herculean task to ensure that their operations impact positively on the rural dwellers that depend on farming for their livelihood.
The federal, state and local governments should also create an enabling environment for parents to wean themselves from grinding poverty which is the major factor responsible for their inability to bring balanced diets to the family tables.
This can be achieved through diversification of the economy leading to provision of employment opportunities at all levels and across the nation. The free school feeding programme of the federal government being run in some selected states of the federation is welcome development.
However, this cannot be a sustainable intervention and/or an alternative to empowering parents to cater for the nutritional needs of their kids.