May 15, 2015

15/05/2015: Improving the quality of milled grains: a call to tackle hidden hunger in Africa

by Greg S. Garrett, Director, Food Fortification at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)

First published in Milling and Grain, March 2015

Today one in nine people – 805 million worldwide, many of whom reside in Africa – still go to bed hungry every night. Many more suffer from micronutrient malnutrition. This ‘hidden hunger’ is of great public health concern. Vitamin A, iron and folate deficiencies are debilitating: vitamin A is critical for preventing childhood blindness and protecting the immune system; iron helps prevent iron deficiency anaemia; and folic acid can prevent life-long neural-tube birth defects. These deficiencies hold entire populations back. Children do not develop fully, parents cannot work efficiently and far too much money is spent on the medical treatment of nutrition-related health problems. 

     
Solutions
However, there are affordable and easy solutions which work and which can be implemented by the private sector. For example, staple food fortification - the practice of deliberately increasing essential micronutrients during the processing of commonly consumed foods including grains - has been ranked by the World Bank and the Copenhagen Consensus as one of the best investments in development in terms of cost-effectiveness and cost:benefit because it improves people's health while indirectly boosting productivity and economic progress. It has led to the virtual eradication of goitre, pellagra, rickets and beriberi in the North and evidence is building of its impact in Asia and Africa. 


Globally, this intervention has gained traction and gone to scale. 79 countries now have mandated wheat flour or maize meal fortification and more undertake it voluntarily. It is estimated that 31 percent of the world’s industrially milled wheat flour is fortified with at least some iron or folic acid through mandatory and voluntary efforts. In Africa alone, 21 countries have now mandated the fortification of wheat and/or maize meal. 

      
http://issuu.com/gfmt/docs/mag1503_w1/58

GAIN: The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition in Africa

GAIN has been leading many of these efforts over the last decade to catalyse national flour fortification in Africa. GAIN believes that food fortification should be an integral part of African countries’ nutrition strategies where existing food supplies and limited access fail to provide adequate levels of nutrients in the diet.

 
In Africa, GAIN has provided grants or technical assistance to Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as throughout West Africa.  


Created in 2002 at a Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Children, GAIN supports public-private partnerships to increase access to missing nutrients in diets necessary for people, communities and economies to be healthier. GAIN is a Swiss foundation headquartered in Geneva with a special international status granted by the Swiss government. It is the only international organisation exclusively focused on ending malnutrition. 


GAIN works in more than 30 countries to support fortification of staple foods and increase access to nutritious foods; demonstrates large-scale impact in maternal and child health; integrates agriculture and nutrition; provides locally relevant solutions specific to the needs of poor communities; builds capacity along the value chain; and helps shape the global nutrition agenda by setting standards and establishing platforms.     


Today, thanks to the efforts of GAIN’s many public and private sector partners including milling companies, over 350 million people in these countries and regions in Africa are receiving more nutritious wheat flour and maize meal. This has led to reductions in neural-tube defects in South Africa and iron deficiency anemia in Nigeria and Morocco, and very high coverage in Senegal resulting in the majority of poor women of reproductive age receiving higher intakes of iron and thus contributing to better health.

      
http://issuu.com/gfmt/docs/mag1503_w1/58
Next steps to ensure milled grains contribute to better health in Africa
While this success is worth celebrating, there is so much more to do to harness the power of the world’s most affordable development intervention. Many of the countries in Africa that still suffer from high rates of hidden hunger have populations which consume high levels of wheat flour and maize meal. For these countries, the private and public sectors should come together and aim to adequately fortify all industrially milled wheat and maize. 


In many countries where there are national flour and maize meal fortification programmes, ongoing maintenance and strengthening is required. For example, quality, compliance and coverage issues plague many of these existing programmes, which in turn adversely influences potential for impact. There are also other quality and safety needs of grains which should be addressed by the fortification programmes and associated regulatory monitoring, thereby linking fortification to overall value addition processes and practices. 

GAIN is committed to helping address bottlenecks to sustainability, compliance and impact of fortification programmes. Working with African governments and the industry as well as with partners like the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the Food Fortification Initiative, PATH, HKI and the Micronutrient Initiative, GAIN aims to support and drive continent-wide replication, new innovations including fortification and testing technology and raise the profile of wheat flour and maize meal fortification. Market-based delivery, school meals, public distribution and humanitarian assistance all can play a part to ensure fortified foods are consumed throughout the continent by those that need them.


From 9 to 11 September 2015 in Arusha, Tanzania, hundreds of leaders from around the world representing the public and private sectors, civil society, financiers and academia will be gathering for a global summit on food fortification. This international gathering will be an opportunity to review successes to date in tackling hidden hunger, understand the gaps in fortification programming and agree on next steps to ensure one of the world’s most cost effective interventions is delivered to many more hundreds of millions across Africa. GAIN hopes to see the milling community actively participate at this event as we aim to purge hidden hunger from Africa. 

 

Read the magazine HERE.
 

The Global Miller
This blog is maintained by The Global Miller staff and is supported by the magazine GFMT
which is published by Perendale Publishers Limited.


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