Food fortification project key in curbing malnutrition in children

30Nov 2019
Francis Kajubi
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Food fortification project key in curbing malnutrition in children

A 32-year-old Leticia of Misufini area in Morogoro Municipality is one of the beneficiaries of food fortification education offered by Sanku Fortification—Project Healthy Children (PHC).

Msouth Extra Power (T) Company workers display a pink bag that is being used in packaging fortified maize flour in Dar es Salaam recently. Photo: Guardian Correspondent.

The project is aimed at offering technology, tools and support for small-scale grain millers in Tanzania, enabling them to fortify their flour with life-saving nutrients as per the country’s laws.

According to Leticia, the project was an eye-opener to me and other people in the area as we’re trained on how to use fortified maize flour when preparing porridge for children.

“This was a golden chance to me as a mother as of now I’m sure the food I give to my child has all the ingredients a child needs for proper growth,” says Leticia.

A mother of two recounts that last year her child was on risk of dying due to malnutrition, “but thanks God she is alive due to the education made by one of grain millers who are in food fortification project”.

As it is to other people who have benefited from the project, Leticia is a happy mother as she is aware of using fortified food for her children.

Celestin Mgoba, research scientist from Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC) describes fortification and bio-fortification as key in reducing micronutrient deficiencies of public health significance among vulnerable population groups, especially infants and young children, and pregnant and lactating women through fortification of staple food with micronutrient.

He says that in 2010, 33 per cent of under 5 children were Vitamin A deficient, 37 per cent of lactating women lacked the same while 58 per cent of children under 5 and 45 per cent of women were anaemic in 2015/16 due to iron deficiency.

According to him, fortification is done during production, but bio-fortification is increasing density of selected vitamins or minerals through plant breeding or agronomic practices.

“This technology is completely different with that of GMO foods as the latter involves change/modification of DNA” he says, encouraging more people to use fortified food.

Felix Brooks-Church, Sanku PHC, co-founder and chief executive officer says: “As organization, we offer education on food fortification technology to small-scale millers, so that they can be able to fortify their flour with life-saving nutrients. And this has been successful as more people have started using fortified food.”

According to him, millers add micronutrients that are scientifically proven to improve health and vitality into the maize flour that 95 per cent of Tanzanians eat daily. The micronutrients added are vitamin and minerals, namely B12, Zinc, Folic Acid, and Iron. The fortification proportionality of the micronutrients addition is 1 kilogram of nutrient premix per 2,000 kilograms of maize flour (Sembe).

He says fortification is geared towards fighting hidden hunger as people eat processed staple foods that lack micronutrients leading to malnutrition to children aged zero to two years.

At least 30 per cent of Tanzanian kids are victims of malnutrition. Lacking key vitamins and minerals in diets made from starchy flour results in 130 Tanzanian children dying every day from preventable sicknesses. This must stop,” says Brooks-Church.

According to him, the organization installs a dosifier, a special machine that is used to add precise amount of micronutrient premix to the maize flour. Since the project started off in 2015 with support from the USAID, SANKU has installed 382 dosifiers as of November this year, reaching over two million people across East Africa with nutritious flour.

“We do enter a special agreement with millers in need of a dosifier that ranges from proving the dosifier equipment to millers via a grant, but in most cases offering use of the machines for free. We are also able to offset the cost of the nutrient premix by providing the milers empty pink flour bags for packaging the flour at a market price, whereby the revenue generated covers the cost of the millers’ nutrients, essentially making fortification cost free” said the CEO.

He asserts that currently 1.5 million Tanzanians consumes fortified maize flour in the 23 regions of the country where Sanku has reached. Brooks-Church added that with the data collected from small miller, agents of fortified maize flour and consumers, 3 million Tanzanians will be consuming fortified flour by the end of next year.

“It’s not easy for a small miller to afford a dosifier that goes at U$2,750 (about 7m/-). We work with all small millers regardless of the capacity of their production in both rural and urban areas hopping to reach 500 millers by the end of 2020.

“We also plan to reach another three regions by the end of this year. We purchase the pink bags through bulk procurement and print them in the names of the millers at our own cost” he explains.

Sanku monitors the miller’s use of the dosifier remotely through a cellular link, developed in partnership with Vodacom, and visits the mill if the dosifier is not in use or needs repair, as well as to restock their nutrients. Brooks-Church said that the dosifier is installed with a chip that helps in sending information about the machine’s operating status after every five minutes.

The chip is connected to the mobile towers thus need no credit or data to function. The information sent directly to Sanku’s server includes whether the machine is functioning correctly, if it is on or off, if the proportionality of maize flour and premix is accurate, and the overall quantity of flour produced. Sanku is working with Vodacom Tanzania for technology to facilitate this service.

Sanku is working on pilot fortification projects in Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi and Mozambique. It targets reaching 100 million people with fortified flour by 2025 in the East Africa region. Sanku finds the millers through its regional manager’s surveys, but also in collaboration with SIDO, TBS, TFNC, Farmers and Millers co-operative unions.

Some of the small maize flour millers, which are benefiting from the food fortification project is the Dar es Salaam-based Msouth Super Sembe.

The firm’s communication manager, Evod Sanga, lauds Sanku and the fortification technology, which has improved the business and people’s healthy.

According to him, the company produces between 20 and 30 tonnes of fortified maize flour per week and it is currently holding negotiations with three boarding secondary schools in Dar es Salaam so as they sign contracts to supply them the product. It has four permanent and 15 temporary employees at its production facility in Dar es Salaam.

“The business is good. We have been also educating consumers on why they have to consume fortified flour through our agents and fliers” he adds.

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