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‘It’s incredible how little people know about the food they eat’

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Founder/Executive Director Consumer Advocacy for Food Safety and Nutrition Initiative (CAFSANI), Professor Olugbenga Ben Ogunmoyela in this interview with ONYEWUCHI NWACHUKWU speaks on his commitment to fostering good nutrition. He also talks on his exploits in the academia, where he said he has nurtured over 300 graduates in the last 35 years.

Tell us a little about yourself…

I grew up in Ifon, Southwest Nigeria but went to Government College, Ibadan, from where I proceeded to the University of Ibadan, where I studied Agriculture, with specialisation in Biochemistry and Nutrition. I later went to University of Reading, where I obtained my MSc and PhD in Food Technology. I later qualified as a Chartered Chemist of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Industry. Inspired by my experiences in and outside Nigeria, especially working with SMEs in 2019, I helped to establish the first specific local advocacy initiative to protect and promote consumer rights to safe, nutritious and healthy foods in Nigeria: Consumer Advocacy for Food Safety and Nutrition Initiative (CAFSANI). Aside my role as Executive Director of CAFSANI, I work as a professor of Food Science and Technology at the BellsUniversity of Technology, Ota, Ogun State and an accomplished mentor and professor of professors. I have nurtured over 300 graduates at different levels in the last 35 years.

What got you interested in nutrition?

I was initially admitted to study veterinary medicine at the University of Ibadan but from the first practical class on anatomy and physiology of farm animals, I was clear that I was not going to be fulfilled in that profession. So, I changed my course to the Department of Animal Science to study Agricultural – Biochemistry and Nutrition, and there I discovered my passion for Food Science and Technology. I have spent the last four decades pursuing various initiatives at interface between good nutrition, food and agriculture. The link between agriculture, food and nutrition cannot be over-emphasised in an agrarian economy like ours, yet we have one of the worst nutritional indices in the global community today. It is incredible how little people know about the foods they eat and the nourishment that they provide, including the dangers of unsafe food preservation and handling practices. This is what inspired me to create Consumer Advocacy for Food Safety and Nutrition Initiative (CAFSANI). Our goal is to bring this subject of nutrition and food safety to the general public like never before, to help spread knowledge that nutrition plays an important role in enhancing our immune systems and good health, especially in this Covid-19 period.

What do you work on and how does it relate to public private engagement for nutrition?

At CAFSANI, our objective is to collaborate with various stakeholders, including regulators, professional associations (like the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology and the Nutrition Society of Nigeria), and development/civil society organisations, to provide a knowledge-based platform for protecting and promoting consumer interests. Our focus is to create awareness and contribute to arresting the worsening nutrition statistics in Nigeria, thereby enhancing the quality of life.

To do this well, we knew before we started that we would need to assemble a Board of Trustees with a wide range of expertise, credibility and professional achievements. The Chairman of our board is Prof. Hafiz Abubakar, MFR, DSc, currently a Visiting Professor at the National Universities Commission, Abuja and immediate past Deputy Governor and Honourable Commissioner of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation for Kano State.

As part of our outreach strategy, we seek out individuals from various sectors, both in the public and private space, who can add value to the discourse as volunteers or partners for our sensitisation programmes and workshops as we cannot do this alone.

These workshops create a safe space for drawing and mobilising attention to the challenges of different communities so that we not only become more familiar with each other’s beliefs, but also foster public–private partnerships.

We also work with partners to provide technical data, market research and support to businesses and regulatory bodies, which are often not readily available in Nigeria.

How exciting is your work?

The most exciting thing for me is to see how all stakeholders, including colleagues in the academia, government and the general public embrace new knowledge and focus on how we can – together – create a safer food system because we are all consumers!

We are also happy to see the enthusiastic support of many professionals, both within and outside the food and nutrition space, who, despite the fact that this is not an environment that has a culture of ‘volunteering’ services, have indicated their interests in offering their services to CAFSANI as volunteers in support of this initiative. This is mainly because they see it as worthwhile and long overdue, and not because of any financial benefits.

In fact, my wife, a banker, who had always wondered why I was so active in the pursuit of so many diverse “pro bono” activities in food and nutrition, now shares this passion!

And what are the challenges?

One major challenge is the sustainability component of many projects which would benefit consumers. Access to supporting grants and funds at this initial start-up stage has also been a major challenge, but we were so determined that we took up the challenge by using personal resources. This was necessary to establish a presence, build credibility and increase our visibility through participation in various food safety, nutrition and sensitisation trainings and workshops.

Again, it is often difficult to believe that some people truly want to ‘give back’ without any strings attached; but this, in fact, is our motivation!

Tell us about your recent success

CAFSANI has been invited to a public inquiry as Consumer Protection Agents to the federal competition and Consumer Protection Commission on a violation of “Consumer Right to Life,” which suggests that we are gaining recognition promoting consumer rights to safety in general! We have also made quite a number of impacting presentations in many webinars targeted at the public, professional associations and SMEs during this Covid-19 pandemic, and we are particularly excited at our increasing number of followers on social media.

These discussions are likely to continue because SMEs are the livewire of the economy, responsible for over 60-70% of the food system.

Though there is currently no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 can be transmitted through food or water, we will continue to share information about food preparation and eating habits to encourage safe and nutritious diets. However, the attendant disruptions in the food supply system will pose a significant challenge for all actors in the system for a long time to come. This is where I see the relevance of CAFSANI manifesting even more in the foreseeable future.

What’s next for CAFSANI?

With the present global lockdowns, it is difficult to plan for anything with a considerable degree of certainty. However, CAFSANI intends to keep the momentum!

If you were to have a slogan for this work, what would it be?

“The voice of the consumer – Pioneering the advocacy for safe and nutritious foods”

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