Food fortification reaches a broad range of people and has proven to be a cost effective solution to improve public health in many countries. (Photo: WFP/Victoria Cavanagh)
WFP and partners are working with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare to promote food fortification and to identify solutions that will reduce micronutrient deficiencies in the next generation.
In Zimbabwe, 1 in 10 children receives the minimum acceptable diet. Micronutrient deficiency is widespread, and stunting rates have been increasing over the past decade. The best way of preventing micronutrient deficiencies is to have a balanced diet, however this is almost impossible for over half the population who live below the poverty line.
In June, WFP coordinated a food fortification workshop, attended by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, UNICEF, USAID, FAO and private sector partners, to provide an update on fortification initiatives, share regional and global evidence on fortification, and to seek consensus on establishing initiatives in the country.
Fortification increases the nutrient density in foods. In Zimbabwe, under nutrition is highly prevalent; infants, young children aged 6-24 months and pregnant and breast-feeding women are the most affected. While significant progress has been made in reducing the prevalence of iodine and vitamin A deficiencies, there has been limited success in reducing the burden of the iron deficiency, anemia, and other micronutrient deficiencies.
“Fifty-six per cent of children aged between 6 months to 5 years are anemic, which is extremely high,” says Ancikaria Chigumira, Deputy Director of Nutrition Services from the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare. “Thirty-two per cent of pregnant women also suffer from anemia.”
“We are exploring fortification options, and are planning to firstly conduct a food consumption and micronutrient survey, then develop an inventory of milling companies, and lastly develop national food fortification legislation,” she explains.
WFP’s Programme Officer, Liljana Jovceva, says the time is right to carry forward the nutrition agenda in Zimbabwe. She explained the importance of pulling malnutrition out of the health sector alone and placing it in a larger arena.
“The 2010 national nutrition survey identified the need for nutrition to be seen as a key development priority, not just a health priority,” Jovceva says. “This requires a multi-sector approach, involving the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Education, among others.”
Zimbabwe is one of the 27 countries taking part in the global Scale Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative. SUN promotes specific country–led nutrition interventions and nutrition sensitive strategies, and ensures an emphasis on women’s empowerment. As part of this initiative, WFP, together with other UN agencies, has funded the formulation of the National Food and Nutrition Policy which emphasizes evidence-based interventions, for example food fortification.
WFP’s regional bureau in Johannesburg has been working closely with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), who has a decade of experience with large-scale food fortification, multi-nutrient supplements and nutritious foods. Sharing their vast knowledge in the fortification arena, GAIN is collaborating with WFP on product development, helping to ensure access to nutritious products at country level, supporting the development of policies and practical guidance materials, and developing capacity of national and regional governments and partners to implement cost effective nutritional programmes.