Meals are no longer the same in many Nigerian homes as mothers who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said they had not only reduced the rations served their children but quality and kind of foods. They are blaming the country’s present economic crunch. In this interview, Ignatius Onimawo, the immediate past president of the Nutrition Society of Nigerian who is also a lecturer at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, says there are grave health consequences for children, pregnant women and the elderly should the crunch persist.
He however gives step by step recommendations on how mothers can still give their families good meals and balanced diets without breaking the banks.
PT: As the economic crisis bites harder, Nigerian mothers say they don’t get to cook as before. Many say they have reduced the rations given their children. Are there nutritional consequences for children in this situation?
Onimawo: When there’s a general downturn as we are experiencing today, nobody is spared and the most affected are the vulnerable groups. The vulnerable groups include the children under five years, pregnant women, those who are lactating (breastfeeding), and the very elderly. These are the very easily affected people. Since you have spoken to people and they say they have already started making adjustments to even the rations given to their children and family members, and are already making adjustments to the kind of foods they buy, certainly, it is going to tell much on the children particularly the under five children who are still in the stage that they need adequate diet for them to grow well. The most affected whom I think should not be toyed with are the ones under two years of age. It may not affect those being breastfed particularly if exclusive breastfeeding because the quality of milk is dependent on the quality of food the woman is eating, but the quantity may be affected. And if the woman is hungry, she might not have enough strength.
PT: Are you saying there is no implication for children undergoing exclusive breastfeeding even when their mothers are not having balanced meals?
Onimawo: If the woman can eat and have enough food to eat, the breastfeeding baby won’t suffer much, but generally it would have a lot of negative impact on the growth of the babies. They will not grow well. It would affect them if it continues for a long time. But if it is for a short while, let’s say the next six months, the impact may not be so serious. But if it continues for another one year or so, then we are in for a lot of problems, particularly the under two years old children.
PT: What could happen to them?
Onimawo: They would be stunted because they don’t have enough food and even quality food to eat. They will not grow well and won’t also be resistant to diseases so can easily get infected. It can also lead to under five mortality, that is, more children dying. Because if there’s no adequate nutrition and a lot of nutrients are lacking in them, particularly vitamin A, then the children will not be able to resist any disease attack. Then, we would have more of our under five children dying.
PT: Notwithstanding the present situation in the country, what can mothers do to ensure their children feed well and grow well?
Onimawo: Any situation as the one Nigeria is experiencing requires a lot of ingenuity from mothers. For instance, there are different sources of carbohydrates, we have garri, rice, wheat, maize and yams.
PT: But yams are so expensive now?
Onimawo: Since yams are so expensive now, any mother who can’t afford them shouldn’t spend more money buying them. They should go for alternatives. Cheaper alternatives are garri and akpu, they can still give you carbohydrate. Then we have sources of protein. We have fish and meat of all kinds.
PT: But they are also now so expensive! What can mothers who can’t afford them do?
Onimawo: They can use beans and groundnuts as replacement. Groundnuts are not so expensive. They contain good sources of protein, so can be used in preparing soups for children. Mothers can also fry and give them to their children as snacks and can even soak garri with them. These will give the children some protein.
PT: What about sources of fruits and minerals? How can mothers tweak this?
Onimawo: There some fruits that are in season such as mangoes. They are not expensive now. Mothers should give their children one mango a day or two. Those fruits in season that are not expensive, buy them and give to your children. It’s just a question of ingenuity. Women have to look for cheaper alternatives of the various food nutrients.
PT: Tomatoes are now no-go-area for many of us women. They are horribly expensive. Even the prices of some of our darling vegetables have skyrocketed! What is the way out for the Nigerian mothers?
Onimawo: The rainy season is just beginning. Women should learn to grow some vegetables around their homes. Even if it is green, grow them around your homes. They should learn to plant some tomatoes around their homes. It’s not everything you go and buy. If you can get some of these vegetables from your gardens, you will be well sorted out in this area.
PT: But do you think it would work in big cities like Lagos? We don’t have spaces for gardens. Our environment is so choked up.
Onimawo: Gardens must not be a spacious piece of land. You can use all those plastic buckets and jerrycans that are now bad. Cut the heads of the jerrycans, put loamy soil, water them well, put your seedlings and they will grow well. You can even plant tomatoes there, put them on the corridor and they will grow well. There’s no excuse, it’s a question of mothers using their ingenuity to get some of these things done. Vegetables are indeed very expensive, so, if you grow them in your house, if you water them regularly, within one or two months, you will have vegetables from your homes. You wouldn’t need to go buying them. Those who have some space can plant ugwu (pumpkin leaves).
These are things that can be done. It’s not everything you go and buy in the market. This would at least, reduce the cost of feeding the family. There are still things that can be done which would make the woman still feed the family adequately without necessarily affecting the income the way it would have been. Change the type of foods you have been eating, there are cheaper alternatives. Go for cheaper alternatives. If for instance you have been used to chicken, why must you go for chicken? You can go for beef or iced fish. There are some iced fish that are cheap. There some smoked ones. You use them to cook the soup, the children will still get the needed protein and they will grow well. Mothers should stop saying “because we used to eat chicken and turkey, so it must continue”. No! If you can’t afford it at the moment, there are alternative sources and still get needed health benefits. Even within this economic crunch, you can still have adequate diet in the family.
PT: Many of the women I spoke with before this interview said they now avoid preparing vegetable soups because they get bad in time since they hardly have power supply to store them. Those with big generators say they can’t buy fuel at the current rate, while those with small generators that can’t power refrigerators or don’t have a power generating set say they are helpless. What do you think they should do?
Onimawo: Vegetables really shouldn’t be stored for too long. Power supply shouldn’t really affect them. Except for the working class woman who is away from home most times, storing food long in the freezer will affect them. Husbands to such women should join their wives in cutting down on some excesses. If they drink beer every day, they should stop it and channel the money into buying fuel to power the generators in order to keep their foods fresh. The women should also rework their schedules to accommodate cooking newer pots of soup every three days. It is healthier. The women should also cut down on personal financial excesses such as buying aso-ebi, and other unneeded items and channel the money to the home front.
PT: Earlier, you recommended women planting their own vegetables and tomatoes. What can they do in the interim while awaiting their vegetables to grow?
Onimawo: For the rural or non-sophisticated women such as those who live in the suburbs of cities, there are markets where they can get cheaper vegetables pending when their own will mature. In this economic crunch, women should know the alternatives.
PT: There’s a trend of women giving their children more bread because, they say it is cheaper. Is that ok?
Onimawo: No, it is not ok. Why must you buy bread every day when it’s the same source of carbohydrates that comes from your garri, local rice and even yam flour?
PT: There’s also a saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. But women are lamenting that apples are now gold. They are too expensive. What’s your recommendation?
Onimawo: Right now in some communities in Edo state, new corns are out. Women who will plant vegetables will have soft landing and those who don’t will continue spending more and lamenting. Go for fruits in season, they are cheaper. If you can’t afford apples, then stop buying them for now. There are garden eggs. Both the local and exotic species are cheaper than apples. Go for them. Rework your dietary plans until this economic crunch is over then you can go back to status quo if you can still afford such. You can complement whatever you are eating to obtain balanced diets.
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