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SUN and the private sector: Business networks in Nigeria and Niger

Ambarka Youssoufane is ENN’s West and Central Africa Knowledge Management Specialist. He observed and summarised the Business Network meetings in Nigeria and Niger.

Introduction from ENN’s NEX Editors

A fish pond deepened allows local communities to fish for commercial purposes in Wara Wara, NigeriaThe Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Networks (SBN) were launched in Nigeria and Niger in April and August 2016, respectively; ENN’s knowledge management specialist for West and Central Africa attended the events in order to document and understand the relationship between the SUN Movement and the private sector at the country level. The launch of the SUN Business Networks in both countries aimed to develop terms and an action plan for working with companies. Several private industries and businesses had already committed to supporting nutrition in these countries; the launches aimed to enrol new members.

Private sector engagement and involvement is viewed in the SUN Movement as an essential element of efforts to scale up successful nutrition interventions. The view is that partnerships with business are crucial, since no single entity has sufficient funding, resources, expertise or reach to tackle the complex nutrition challenges that exist today. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have also placed greater emphasis on the role played by the private sector – “The question now is not whether business should engage in sustainable development, but how”.

Yet there is concern about how the private sector, with its incentives aligned around profits, can make a meaningful contribution to development, and specifically nutrition. Areas of the nutrition sector in which conflicts of interest (CoI) have been identified include: the marketing of infant formula; the fortification of staple food; the reformulation of foods; and the delivery of school food and nutrition programmes (see WHO report Addressing and Managing Conflicts of Interest in the planning and delivery of nutrition programmes at country level) (WHO 2016). The SUN Movement has a toolkit for preventing and managing conflicts of interest (SUN 2014), which suggests processes for developing a CoI policy and a risk-based approach to identifying CoI.

Outside SUN, the private sector is heavily involved with humanitarian and development programming in nonfood sectors, e.g. logistics, telecommunications, electronic money transfer, digital communication platforms, etc. These areas of involvement are less at risk of the CoIs identified for food and nutrition.

Nigeria

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the SBN co-organised the event in Nigeria. The launch featured extensive discussions about malnutrition in the country, and how business, government and civil society organisations (CSOs) can work together to address the problems.

The event focused on themes such as:

1. How can business join the fight against malnutrition, and what is the business case for investing in nutrition?

2. How do we improve on existing action so as to reach the most vulnerable?

3. What can the SBN do to reduce the financial risk involved in investing in nutrition?

4. How can business shape the way forward with regards to malnutrition?

Opening comments addressed the question: Why do we need business to be part of the solution to malnutrition in Nigeria? Malnutrition has significant negative effects on economic development, particularly in healthcare costs. Over a third of Nigerian children under five are malnourished, while vitamin and mineral deficiencies result in losses of over US$1.5 billion in GDP annually. Adults who are sick are less economically productive, which impacts negatively on the national income.

A panel discussion on business leadership in the fight against malnutrition described Africa as the next frontier, with agribusiness as a major driver of growth. Business can play many roles in supporting nutrition, including: agricultural production, food fortification and biofortification, production and marketing of complementary food and micronutrients, and production of ready-to-use therapeutic food. However, business needs to come together in one platform such as the SBN to discuss issues. Feedback from the global SBN coordinator indicated that businesses need to share the risks of new investments in nutrition, particularly when looking at low-income consumers. How do we convince them to reach down to lower-income consumers? One of the SBN’s roles is to ensure the dissemination of research resources to support businesses.

A second panel, comprising representatives from Dansa Foods, Olam Cocoa Nigeria and Unilever Nigeria, highlighted World Bank data that points to the dire nutrition situation in the country, and the youthfulness of the Nigerian population – the potential of the Nigerian market is huge. Engaging in the SBN is an opportunity for business to create a platform for discussion with government and other stakeholders on issues related to business engagement in nutrition, such as creating demand for nutritious food and providing information on nutrition and consumer behaviours.

Other ideas on SBN strategy shared by participants included:

• Consumer awareness campaigns must engage with new alternative platforms for awareness creation, such as video, social media, etc.;

• There are serious infrastructural and distribution issues to be addressed for food commercialisation;

• Sharing best practices on engagement with farmer families around nutrition are critical; and

• The SBN should consider how to promote youth entrepreneurship in agriculture.

Niger

Niger’s SBN launch aimed to elaborate on the role and engagement of the private sector in the development of a business network in the country.

The launch was opened by the president of the Association Afrique Agro Export (AAFEX), a group of agricultural and agri- Food exporters from 16 African countries, including Niger. According to AAFEX, the private sector has a role to play in supporting national nutrition priorities through leveraging its business operations, value chain and social investment resources, innovation and investment. Business can provide technical knowledge and use its marketing ability, skills and technology to support advocacy to resolve nutritional problems in Niger.

The SUN-CSA coordinator urged the SBN to make greater commitments to the well-being of children and women in Niger, and reaffirmed the willingness of Niger’s SUN civil society to assist the private sector in its activities in support of nutrition in the country. Ways in which the private sector can contribute to strengthening nutrition in Niger were identified as:

• Investing in food and agriculture, innovation, increase marketing capacity;

• Food fortification;

• Local market-based approach to develop an adapted response to food need; and

• Work place sensitisation on the importance of nutrition.

Group discussions focused on the role of business in strengthening nutrition and private sector commitments, as well as criteria for membership of the SBN.

The SBN launch continued with a rally in Dosso (Province of Niger) with the objective to promote products of AAFEX member companies and other agri-food companies, and to raise awareness on pregnant and lactating women’s nutrition. Finally, a debate was organised on national television to explain the rationale behind the establishment of the SBN in Niger, the contribution that the private sector can make in the fight against malnutrition, and its commitments to strengthen nutrition in Niger.

Conclusion

The SBNs for Niger and Nigeria were launched to initiate the conversation with the private sector on why and how the business community can join the fight against malnutrition locally and globally. Stakeholders in both countries recognised potential benefits for businesses in economic returns, but also for the energy and innovation that business

can contribute to combatting malnutrition. However, both governments still have to develop clear strategies to ensure that the private sector abides by food production marketing rules and regulations, and to raise awareness of the need to manage and avoid Cols at all stages of private sector engagement in food and nutrition scale-up.

References

WHO 2016 – Addressing and Managing Conflicts of Interest in the planning and delivery of nutrition programmes at country level www.who.int/nutrition/publications/COI-report/en/

SUN 2014 – The SUN Movement Toolkit for Preventing and Managing Conflicts of Interest. Reference Note March 2014. gsogeneva.ch/wp-content/uploads/Toolkit_ENG_web.pdf

 

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Ambarka Youssoufane (2017). SUN and the private sector: Business networks in Nigeria and Niger. Nutrition Exchange 7, January 2017. p15. www.ennonline.net/nex/7/nigeriaandniger

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