Bite the Talk Episode 19 : UNFSS Stocktaking Series - Nigeria

Joyce Akpata: Welcome to Bite the Talk, the podcast that dives deep into the pressing issues of our time. I am Joyce, your host for today, and we are honoured to be joined by a special guest: Dr. Sanjo Faniro, who is the National Convenor of the United Nations Food System Summit in Nigeria, and also the Director for Social Development at the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget, and National Planning. In this role he has responsibility for the coordination of food systems, transformation initiatives, and ensuring effective implementation of the national pathways for food systems transformation. In addition, his ministry has responsibility for nutrition coordination, and implementation of the National multi-sectoral plan of action for food and nutrition in Nigeria.

In this episode we'll be asking what is it really like to lead and coordinate the process on food systems transformation within the government of Nigeria? And as we approach the United Nations Food Systems Summit Stocktaking Moment, what needs to happen to drive further progress? 

But before we delve into the stock taking process, let us first recall how the United Nations Food Systems Summit came about. The summit was a first of its kind. A global gathering of government organisations, individuals, and an array of stakeholders working together to address the urgent challenges facing our food systems. This unique event took place in September 2021. 

Sir, you were recently appointed as the new national convenor for Nigeria, what did you think when you were first appointed and what does the role look like on a day-to-day basis? 

Dr. Sanjo Faniran: Thank you very much, Joyce. Once I was appointed, the journey was not new to me, reason being that I was part of the inception arrangements for the dialogues in Nigeria, where we had over 40 dialogues, which produced some of these recommendations that are considered priority actions for Nigeria. 

So, the first thing that occurred to me when I became the National Convenor was that I would not disappoint the government of Nigeria. Neither will I disappoint the  former president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, that presented these 7 key priority actions at the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021, and that actually prompted me into designing an inner strategy that would enable me to deliver on the assignments. That brought about the constitution of a national multistakeholder and multi-sectoral taskforce that will work with me and think about the best way to go on the implementation of all the 78 priorities. 

I also initiated the constitution of a technical working group of all relevant stakeholders by requesting for all the permanent secretaries in relevant government agencies to nominate a representative that is proactive and would be able to report on activities of their ministry with respect to transforming food systems in Nigeria. And I also leveraged the nutrition policy where we have the multi-sectoral plan of action that has already established arrangements that cut across all the states of the federation. So, all these became a strength to me, and made me to swing into action with the determination to achieve the best for Nigeria. 

Joyce Akpata: Would you say that the UNFSS process has had a tangible impact on the government's agenda in relation to food systems in Nigeria? 

Dr. Sanjo Faniran: Yes, it does. At the nutrition council meeting, which is presided over by the Vice President,  reports on the implementation of the food system transformation pathways is presented. It's now one of the agenda items in that meeting, and that will tell you that it has now become a critical issue that is now being taken over by the government asa priority step to take to transform our food system. 

And you know, nutrition as one of the components of the food system is just a subset of this system. People are mistaking food system to be agriculture only or food and nutrition only. Food systems cuts across all what we can call components of food ecosystem. Anything that has to do food, from the farm to the dining table, including crops planting, processing, transportation, eating, and even the post-harvest losses, is going to be a priority in our food systems transformation pathways for Nigeria.  

So, there is that arrangement now that is making food systems to become more popular and to become the priority of the government as one of the accelerators for achieving SDGs by the year 2030. Thank you. 

Joyce Akpata: Thank you, Doc. Good to see that government is deliberate about transforming the Nigerian food system. So, what would you say the progress has been thus far in driving the implementation of the national pathways. And are you able to share any key highlights in that regard? 

Dr. Sanjo Faniran: Thank you very much. As a country, and as the national convenor, with the team that I set up and technical working group of all stakeholders, we have made tremendous achievements. And I can tell you that, Nigeria is one of the countries that the UN Food systems coordination hub is recognising as the champion in the implementation of the food system transformation.  

I’ve been invited to various countries to share experiences, just recently I was invited to Vietnam to come and share our approach to implementation of the food systems transformation pathways. Another thing is, that as a country we have decentralised coordination that brought about all the state of the federation to be speaking on how they want to improve their food system, for now we are doing that one through the zones.  

Nigeria has 6 geopolitical zones, and we have identified a particular state in each zone, that will coordinate all other states within the zone. And with that, within the zones they have organised themselves and are having a platform where they are meeting virtually and physically and that means they are discussing, based on the strengths that they have in each zone that will enable us to transform food system. 

So, besides that, we have also commenced the development of an implementation strategy for the 78 priority actions because what we did before was to have an ad hoc arrangement that selected 3 program in 2022 for implementation in terms of dissemination of weather information to all farmers across the country,  encouraging all states of the federation to establish farm estates that will be able to accommodate the youth, the women, the vulnerable group, and persons that can be relevant within the farm estates. So that each state will have an integrated farm estate that can accommodate the youth, the women, the vulnerable, the processor, and the private sector.  These estates will have built hostels for people that are interested while government is expected to provide an enabling environment in terms of land for use for those interested in farming. 

Also was the identified was the promotion of homestead gardening, small holder farming, and backyard farming.  

With regards to the implementation strategy, we now have gotten a zero draft in consultation with all the states of the Federation which was carried out according to geopolitical zones. We divided the country into two, with northern zones, having their own consultation on the 15 May 2023 in Kano, and then the Southern zone, which is the south-east, south- south, had their own in Awka, Anambra state on 18th May 2023.  

The essence of that consultation was to harvest inputs from all the states. There’re no states now without information on the pathways or has not contributed to the development of the strategy, so that everybody will be able to bring in their own ideas. And besides that, we have also developed an action plan for 2023, because we felt that if we wait until we finish the development of the strategy, we may not be able to do much. So, we had only three programmes last year. We have added another 6 and out of the 6 we’re encouraging school gardens that will enable our students, our schools, those that are interested in farming to start planning and implementing activities within the schools. It will also help our home-grown school feeding system because it we enable us to be looking at dietary function and the food and nutrition within the school environment so that the students will see they can also contribute to the to the implementation of the food system transformation pathways in Nigeria.  

So, we've done a lot and the coordination has actually helped us. Every State is now discussing on how they are going to implement those initiatives in the pathways that concern them, based on what we have developed as action plan for 2023 and then waiting for the strategy itself that will encompass all the 78 priority actions. 

Joyce Akpata: Well, thank you very much, Doc. It's impressive to see the amount of work that has been undertaking thus far, especially the far-reaching consultations and engagement with diverse stakeholders. Well done to you and the team. So, what would you see at the biggest implemented implementation related challenges? No doubt there would be some challenges as you go on this journey. 

Dr. Sanjo Faniran: Yeah. Thank you very much. The only implementation challenge is that at the state level, some states are still yet to understand what we call food systems, and they are still misconceiving food system to only mean agriculture or only nutrition, or they don't look at the other elements such as logistics and processing as well as other incidentals.  So, in terms of comprehension, conceptual understanding of food system, we're having challenge in some states. 

In terms of a funding, we have been receiving support from our partners and the government of Nigeria that has actually put some resources into coordination. So, in the budget 2023 the minister of state fought extensively to make sure that we had resources to support coordination of implementation of food system in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning. While we are now encouraging all the States to have a budget line for the implementation and for the coordination of food system transformation by the ministries of economic planning. 

In terms of technical implementation, most of the relevant stakeholders have budgetary allocation for what they are expected to do in the food system, including in the nutrition departments, which now have it budget , but the State Ministries of economic planning do not have budget for coordination of food system, because it's a new thing. So, in terms of resources, that is the challenge, and what we are trying to do now to mitigate that by supporting their participation in implementation and coordination related activities.  

So those are the little challenges that we have, and as time goes on, we are going to walk around mitigating those challenges. Thank you. 

Joyce Akpata: Thank you very much. Definitely continuous sensitisation and the capacity building on the importance of systems thinking will undoubtedly aid in addressing some of these challenges. Good. So how would you say other organisations in the sector and partners have supported the food systems transformation in Nigeria? 

Dr. Sanjo Faniran: We have done a mapping of all the development partners, and donors that are supporting food and nutrition in Nigeria and the former minister of state actually called a meeting of all development partners, spoke to them that we want to have an integrated approach in supporting the implementation of food system, so that will not be one sided and all of them have given their promises and made commitment to support.  

I know whenever we call on the partners in Nigeria, they are always ready.  We have  sensitised all of them on our activities and recently  called them to a meeting, where we presented the transformation pathways to them, with the Minister of State eliciting their  support towards implementation of the food system transformation pathways. And not only agriculture, not only for the nutrition, but everything that has to do with transforming food system in Nigeria, including logistics, including post-harvest losses and everything that goes with the food value chain. So, thank you. 

Joyce Akpata: Thank you very much, Doc, as we count down to the stock taking moment, what are the key next steps for the immediate future? 

Dr. Sanjo Faniran: Yeah. The next step is that we will not relent in our efforts to make sure that we continue the implementation. All the States through the geopolitical zones, are aggressive, and we have already told them that they are going to submit reports of what they have achieved on food system transformation, which will be part of Nigeria’s report  to the UN food system coordination hub ahead of the stocktaking on July 24th to 26th 2023. 

So, then, the next step is that we are aggressively pursuing the implementation of the action plan for 2023, especially with the issue of issue of school garden, we want to have a pilot school garden in all the state of Federation we have already established that and the States in all the zones are working on that. We are also encouraging all the states to establish farm estates and they have started doing that now. For those that do not have, they have started consulting with their governors. For those that have, and are dormant, they are trying to reactivate them. So, we’re taking every step that will enable us to produce a robust report. 

We also requested for a side event, during the stock take, as well as a high level meeting to be led and chaired by the Vice President.  

We expect Nigeria’s visibility to be highly noted during the stock taking moment in Rome. 

Joyce Akpata: Yeah, thank you very much, Doc. And thank you for taking out time to share with us, and we definitely at pleased to learn of what's been done in driving food systems transformation in Nigeria. We wish you and the team all the best on this journey, while we as GAIN undoubtedly are committed to supporting the process. 

Dr. Sanjo Faniran: Thank you very much. We appreciate GAIN as a one of the serious and committed INGOs in food and nutrition in Nigeria. Not only the food system, not only the food pathway you’re supporting, but you’re also supporting a lot of things particularly the issue of estate gardening in the Northeast, particularly in Gombe, in our 3 local governments in partnership with ANRiN, we are enjoying that support, and we commend your attitude to supporting the development of Nigeria. So, thank you very much. 

Joyce Akpata: Thank you. This brings us to the end of this episode of Bite the Talk podcast. We hope that the discussions of the United Nations Food system summit stocktaking process have provided you with valuable insight into the challenges and opportunities in our food systems. Remember that every small action we take can help to create a memorable, sustainable, and equitable future. Thank you for joining us. Until next time.