Food Fortification in Africa: A Strategy to Eradicate Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
The burden of malnutrition in Africa continues to rise and it is costing the continent billions of dollars in lost productivity as a direct consequence of the effects of lack of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals in particular.
It is estimated that about 40% of people in Sub-Sahara Africa are affected by vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency raises the risk of severe illness and death in children by as much as 23-40%, and is a major cause of blindness in many countries. Iron deficiency on the other hand affects more than 70% of the populations in Africa. Iron deficiency carries a higher risk of child birth complications and maternal deaths; it decreases normal mental development by as much as 40-60% and lowers school performance. But more importantly perhaps, anaemia due to iron deficiency diminishes work capacity and productivity by up to 15%.
A two day high level consultation convened by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) in conjunction with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) sought to seek solutions to advance the food fortification agenda on the continent.
This comes at a time when food crises in a number of Sub-Saharan countries are a real concern and against the backdrop of unacceptably high levels of vitamin and mineral deficiencies (VMDs) particularly those of vitamin A, iron, iodine, folate and zinc. To ensure nutrition security, food security is an essential element as it compliments food fortification amongst other strategies.
The 16 experts from NEPAD, GAIN, DBSA, United nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Helen Keller International (HKI), Micronutrient Initiative (MI), World Food Programme (WFP) and USAID agreed on the urgent need for focused action to reduce if not eliminate VMDs through multiple strategies including fortification if Africa is to attain the MDGs and compete in the global economy. It has been long recognized that good nutrition is more than just eating enough food. Quality is as critical as quantity to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
NEPAD, GAIN and the development partners recognize that solutions are at hand. To this end the group of experts at this important meeting agreed to craft a succinct strategy for Africa that takes into account the homogeneity of the regions and its people to tackle the problems head on. This Africa Vitamin and Mineral Strategy is part of the Global Ten Year Strategy that is poised to eradicate VMDs. The upside to this process is that Africa, through NEPAD is taking the lead and initiative in developing and presenting its strategy while continuing work on the ground with the private sector to fortify maize and wheat flour, sugar, oil and salt. Plans are under way to fortify other staples such as cassava and millet.
Adding just a few grams of vitamins and minerals per ton to maize meal, wheat flour, sugar, oil and salt is one of the most effective and sustainable ways to improve nutrition. Although several countries in Africa already have fortification programmes, efforts need to be intensified to benefit a larger majority.
The consultation noted that the private sector and food manufacturing companies have the expertise, infrastructure and resources to produce and distribute fortified foods. The meeting echoed that strong collaboration of business and government is central to efforts to fortify food and ensure for achieving effective food fortification. Public and private investment is critical in the fight against the scourge of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The African Leadership through NEPAD is committed to a new vision in support of nutrition broadly and food fortification specifically. The African Union’s Nutrition Strategy in the health sector is further testament of this commitment. In addition, the emerging coalition of partners, coupled with the overall African commitment in the area of food and nutrition security provides hope for optimism that available relatively inexpensive solutions to enhance micronutrient consumption, will go a long way towards fast tracking Africa’s economic growth and the reduction of poverty.
Louis Napo Gnagbe | NEPAD
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