Food Fortification – An Enriching Opportunity

The Power of Nutrition partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to host an expert opinion roundtable on the role of the private sector to help create the multi-sectoral partnerships that will help drive forward large-scale food fortification. In this article, Mabel McKeown outlines some important themes that emerged from the session

There is a simple, cost effective and large-scale nutrition intervention that you have almost certainly benefitted from – but likely never heard of. Your children, parents, grandparents, and many millions of others have benefitted from it too. This intervention has been saving and improving lives since 1924. It is simple, cost effective and can prevent chronic disease. The intervention is food fortification: one of the safest and most cost-effective ways to tackle undernutrition at scale.

Every $1 invested in food fortification generates $27 in economic return from averted disease, improved earnings, and enhanced work productivity [1] . It can be targeted to reach the estimated 2 billion people with micronutrient deficiencies, such as anemia, without changing their diets.

The need for this intervention could not be timelier as we all address the global disruption on nutrition and food security caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At The Power of Nutrition we are committed to tackling undernutrition, the underlying cause of 45% of all preventable child deaths. We focus our work on the first 1,000 days of life, from conception to a child’s second birthday, when the right nutrition helps them grow to their full potential. Fortification of staple food is one of the key areas of focus that we look to take to scale with our partners.

Recently, we partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to host an expert opinion roundtable on the role of the private sector to help create the multi-sectoral partnerships that will help drive forward large-scale food fortification. We welcomed a diverse panel of experts to talk about the political, social and technical obstacles to achieving successful large-scale food fortification – and how we can overcome them. Our panel represented the millers, quality assurance managers, multi-national companies and government partners that are striving to deliver fortified foods in countries where the malnutrition burden remains stubbornly high. Some important themes emerged from the session:

1 Government is the enabler: To ensure the most in need of improved nutrition are receiving fortified staple foods, governments must play an enabling role. Government buy-in helps increase quality coverage of fortified foods by creating a level playing field to ensure that all companies are fortifying to the same standards. Governments have several important roles to play to enable fortification and create incentives for business to engage and comply. This includes developing national fortification guidelines; setting standards for fortified foods; monitoring company fortification practices and penalizing those who do not comply; assessing budgetary needs; and even creating appropriate logos and labels for fortified products. Ensuring that imported fortifying ingredients do not have high import taxes is also critically important.

2 The Private Sector drives fortification : The role of the private sector in fortification drives its success. The millers are the real champions of fortification along with premix suppliers who can support by ensuring quality product that does not change the taste or color of the staple foods once fortified. Increased opportunities for B2B trainings from premix suppliers to millers was identified as a key component of successful scale up of quality fortification.

As an example, DSM, a Dutch purpose-led global nutrition, health and sustainable living company, organizes training seminars regularly and acts as a partner to millers, available to troubleshoot issues they face. The seminars ensure all partners involved understand how to comply with national regulations, dive deep into which formulas work best for fortification and which staple foods and micronutrients are most effective. This in turn ensures that the products that come forward from millers are of supreme quality, maintain efficacy, are nutrient rich and cost effective.

3 The Power of Partnerships: Successful and large scale fortification comes from partnerships –where the government enables industry action and educates consumers; where academia drives research and technical progress; where the private sector produces and delivers high quality fortified products; where consumers are sufficiently educated in the health benefits of choosing fortified products.

4 Unconventional thinking welcome: By 2050 the global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion, when our food systems will be under far greater stress. Fortification will play a crucial role in ensuring that diets fulfill not just daily calorie requirements but the nutrient requirements to prevent micronutrient deficiencies. We all must play a role in thinking creatively and creating unlikely partnerships to ensure quality fortification coverage for all consumers—including the most vulnerable. We must also take stock of how we engaged before the pandemic and how we can better prepare our food systems to delivery quality, affordable and nutritious foods.

Ultimately, public and private partners will need to come together if we are serious about tackling undernutrition. When governments put nutrition higher on their national policy agendas, and the private sector brings innovation and expertise, we can deliver both health and economic impacts that will benefit businesses and consumers for decades to come.

Editor’s Note:

The Power of Nutrition and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hosted a joint roundtable focussing on current themes in food fortification, including the effectiveness of interventions in improving health and the role of the private sector in achieving impact. The webinar saw participation from:

  • Martin Short, Former CEO, The Power of Nutrition
  • Andreas Bluethner, Director, Nutrition, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Nina Sarjunani,Head of KFI, The Indonesian Fortification Alliance
  • Yannick Foing, Global Director, Nutrition Improvement, DSM
  • Samuel Musyoka, Quality Assurance Manager, Mandela Millers, Uganda
  • Jessica Nworgu, Quality Control Manager, Flour Mills Nigeria
  • Indriani Gunawan, PT Nutrindo Interfarma Sejahtera, Indonesia
  • Nada Elhusseiny, Technical Advisor, Egypt and North Africa at Food Fortification Initiative

To discuss opportunities for the advancement of food fortification and other nutrition-specific and sensitive interventions, please get in touch with Mabel McKeown at The Power of Nutrition at:mm******@po**************.org @FundNutrition

Read more from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation here.



Watch a recording of the webinar




[1] Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Optimist, Doubling down of food fortification to fortify the future, 2019 [–ZGg-HFstEVKLnPHJD_Vs4vLPJEnb626DoVN29NraQuFgmgD0

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