Why local diets make the difference in food fortification

By Molly Anders, Julie Espinosa 06 November 2015

Delegates are guided through the flour fortification process on a site visit during September's #FutureFortified Summit in Arusha, Tanzania.

“Even the less fortunate person eats bread,” a miller tells visitors gathered on the storage floor of the Bungasari Flour Mills in Arusha, Tanzania.

In this video, shot on location at September’s #FutureFortified Global Summit on Food Fortification, co-hosted by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, delegates are guided through the fortification process.

A rich, blond powder — the premixed fortificant — disappears into a drum of churning flour, to be bagged and distributed to local stores in Arusha and beyond.

Tanzanians didn’t immediately trust food fortification, he explains. At first, the public believed adding critical nutrients like folic acid and vitamin A to flour seemed unnecessary. After all, can’t people get these by eating correctly, or purchasing the right foods?

“At first there was some resistance. After some time they started learning it’s because of their own health, they understood. Not everybody is capable of [accessing] healthy foods,” the miller said. “But flour reaches everybody.”

Local diets play a huge role for organizations like GAIN and the Iodine Global Network when deciding which foods to fortify and where. While bread finds its way into most meals in Tanzania and other parts of East Africa, other regions favor other staples, like rice, which requires a wholly different fortification process.

Staying flexible across a spectrum of local and regional needs remains one of the greatest challenges faced by aid groups in the fortification space, Monica Musonda, founder and CEO of Java Foods told Devex associate editor Kelli Rogers during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“We’re seeing that [fortification] is the best and most effective way on the nutritional side,” she said. “How can we make sure the right products with the right nutritional value are getting to the right people? The opportunity is there.”

While it’s important to push for stronger food systems, Marc van Ameringen, executive director of GAIN, believes fortification should help fill in the gaps where traditional nutrition interventions are ineffective, particularly for women, children and the poor.

“Some of our programs are very focused on dietary diversity and trying to make sure the food system produces enough access to an affordable, diverse diet for poor people,” he told Devex associate editor Richard Jones in Arusha.

“But in most places, particularly this region and southern Africa, people are living on a starchy diet … So adding those vitamins and minerals into the maize meal or wheat flour gives them a good part of those nutrients they need.”

Future Fortified is a special online series presented by Devex, in partnership with GAIN, exploring the impact and importance of food fortification to meet global development objectives. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #FutureFortified.

About the authors

Molly Andersmollyanders_dev

Molly is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in London, she covers U.K. foreign aid and trends in international development. She draws on her experience covering aid legislation and the USAID implementer community in Washington, D.C., as well as her time as a Fulbright Fellow and development practitioner in the Middle East to develop stories with insider analysis.

Espinosa julie
Julie Espinosa

Julie Espinosa is Devex's video producer, covering humanitarian aid, sustainable development and global health. Prior to joining Devex, Julie worked in documentary film production in Austin, Texas. She holds a master's degree in communications and cultural studies from Georgetown University and a bachelor's in visual arts from Harvard University.

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