Thursday, October 1, 2020

CEREAL FORTIFICATION: AN ALTERNATIVE STRATEGY FOR COMBATING NUTRITIONAL DEFIENCY

The Botswana Institute of Development and Policy Analysis have released a newly published booklet titled “The Feasibility of mandatory fortification of cereals in Botswana” by Seleka, T.B., Makepe P.M., Kebakile, P., Batsetse, L., Mmopelwa D., Mbaiwa, K . and J. Jackson. (BIDPA , 2008).

Poverty, global warming, and the shift from Agriculture to what is perceived to be higher income earning activities have left a large population undernourished. As Agricultural output has decreased, food Scientists have attempted to improve the amounts of specific micro- and macro nutrients in various food commodities, especially those commonly eaten by the majority of the population to enhance the food quality. This effort to improve the nutritional quality of food known as fortification is one of the strategies adopted to improve amounts of specific nutrients in food.
The booklet, “FMFCB” attempts to explain the basis for fortification of cereals, the existing landscape in Botswana and the advantages of the process. A mandatory fortification programme, whereby micro- and macro- nutrients are added is advocated for combating various food deficiencies, for improving the general productivity of the workforce and for several economic reasons.

Concepts of voluntary and mandatory fortification are presented, their implications to food developers and suppliers and on the general health of the population. Mandatory fortification legally binds food producers to fortify their products. Common additives include iodine, iron, vitamin A and folic acid. It is indicated that while “mass fortification” is for the general public, “target fortification” is for specific groups in the population. Another point raised about fortification is the need to identify the food vehicle for adding the nutrients. This has to be a food commodity that is commonly consumed by a large sector of the population.

An analysis of the types of milling establishments existing in Botswana is made as well as the cost implications of fortification. The cost of technology development, depreciation of equipment, labour costs, costs of the premix and cost of utilities are viewed as some of the immediate factors that play into the equation. Mention is also made of the issue of packaging, labeling and maintenance costs.

A strategy for a sustainable fortification programme is suggested. This includes advocacy and promotion, legislation and regulation and quality assurance and control. Seleka and colleagues highlight the role Government must play in regulation and the development of standards, inspection and certification. Identification of substandard products in the market and product recalls is also emphasized.

The authors support mandatory fortification of selected foods by a limited number of manufacturing firms to promote successful supervision and monitoring. They also emphasize effective support systems such as advocacy, social communication, regulation, quality control and monitoring. Cereals are the commodity of choice as they are the most commonly consumed food in Botswana. Due to a large number of small millers that are scattered all over the country and have a number of constraints, effective fortification has to be simple and affordable.

In view of the incidence of malnutrition and new nutritional challenges from the emergence of communicable disease such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS and non-communicable ones that include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure, gout and obesity, the authors advocate the creation of an enabling environment that will encourage the development and use of fortified products. The paper presents an overview of malnutrition covering iron, vitamin A and iodine deficiencies. It lists prospective beneficiaries of fortification that include all persons covered by the vulnerable group feeding programmes. The importance of research and development into better techniques for production and improvement in quality and safety of products is elucidated. The authors also identify gaps in knowledge and make strong recommendations on fortification, legislation and regulation. To address the stated gaps, inputs from the affected players should be allowed, to ensure a realistic approach.

Some of the recommendations made include the setting up of a national fortification alliance, a multi-sectoral committee tasked with advocacy and promotion of a fortification programme. In addition, it is recommended that mandatory fortification be introduced as it is considered critical in enhancing the nutritional value and combating various food deficiencies.

Professor Sesae Mpuchane, a Bio-scientist and the current chairperson of the new Botswana International University of Science and Technology, when contacted for comment, said; “This is a very informative document. The recommendations made, if adopted can go a long way in assuring food security to a large section of the population, particularly the vulnerable groups in the country. I commend the authors for putting together such a simple, informative and timely booklet.” She concluded.

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