The Africa Network Event, which was held on 5 October 2016 in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, celebrated Africa's efforts in fortification of wheat and maize flour with with essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron and folic acid, to improve the population's health by combatting malnutrition.
By the end of 2014, 24 countries in Africa had mandatory legislation for wheat flour fortification to provide essential vitamins and minerals to their populations, while in another 3 countries millers did so voluntarily. Now, 2 years later, 27 countries have mandatory legislation for wheat flour fortification and millers in another 5 do so voluntarily. In addition to this increase we also see that 9 countries have mandatory legislation also for maize flour, while in 2 other countries millers do so voluntarily.
On 5 October 2016, Smarter Futures - a partnership for Africa of the Flour Fortification Initiative (FFI), The International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (IF), Helen Keller International (HKI), AkzoNobel and the Dutch government - organized an Africa Network Event in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, in conjunction with a Maize Fortification Strategy workshop for Africa. This workshop brought together participants from 14 countries in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa, as well as partners from public, private and civic sectors. The event was a celebration of Africa's efforts in flour fortification.
The event kicked off with a Market Place where industry and others partners exhibited their materials and products and showed how these could serve the efforts of countries. There were discussion corners and people had good opportunity of getting acquainted. The exhibitions of partners BioAnalyt, Muhlenchemie, DSM, Buhler and AkzoNobel led to lively interactions and demonstrations.
After the Market Place, Anna Verster welcomed the guests and gave passionate praise to the country teams and the millers for being at the forefront of the struggle against brain damage from iron deficiency and prevention of birth defects through fortification with folic acid. Scott Montgomery of FFI, Erin Smith of HKI, and Percy Oosterveen of AkzoNobel all joined Anna in congratulating the countries for their efforts and gave an overview of their role in the Smarter Futures partnership and the achievements of their organisation.
The partners in Smarter Futures again emphasized the goal of Smarter Futures and its aim to support public-private partnerships at all levels, provide technical expertise and training tools and bring people together across countries and sectors. An example of this interaction was the networking during the market place afterwards. The premix suppliers had interaction with the government, the government with millers and the millers with the technical experts.
|More event photos can be seen here.|
Anna described the mission of IF and why IF supports flour fortification. She stressed the burden of spina bifida and hydrocephalus and how we have known for 25 years now that folic acid can help to prevent these birth defects. Only through fortification of wheat and maize flour with folic acid can the majority of women of childbearing age be protected effectively before they get pregnant. Millers are thus key actors in preventing spina bifida and reducing its impact on families and society, especially in developing countries.
The participants were informed that by the end of 2017, the current Smarter Futures project will come to an end. They were given a questionnaire, asking about their experiences with the partnership, their familiarity with the tools developed, and their views on a future for Smarter Futures.
The questionnaire was filled out by 22 of the participants. The majority of the people who responded found tools prepared by Smarter Futures and its partners (see below) useful or very useful. Those who had not used them before, expected to use the tools in the next 5 years.
Other tools that could be developed in the future were social marketing and awareness creating tools, fortification testing kits, reference material on food laws and national standards, inspection and monitoring tools, especially for external auditors, and a toolkit for small maize flour millers on how to commercialize their fortified products.
People who reported having participated in training workshops on Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QAQC) for flour fortification, stated that they had shared the knowledge and experience gained with their colleagues in a number of ways, such as in-house discussions, meetings and workshops. Most participants had written reports and shared these in meetings.
The interaction with other millers from other countries was praised by participants, as was the possibility to compare their work to other projects. The trainings and meetings had helped some advocate better to the politicians, industry and consumers why fortification was beneficial for the population.
The resources brought to the meetings, the detailed information on methodologies and fortification techniques were found highly beneficial. Also, information on simple testing methods as well as all the training materials developed was seen as useful.
Suggestions for improvements
There was a call by many respondents for building capacity in monitoring and surveillance of fortified products, including ways to ensure compliance. Also help was asked in developing legislation and standards. Training of trainers was raised as a possible mechanism.
Assistance was asked also for QAQC implementation at country level, and sharing of available techniques to be used by government inspectors to assess quality of fortified foods.
The web-based monitoring system demonstrated by HKI Tanzania during the Maize Fortification Strategy workshop was of interest to several respondents who would like to know more and possibly also start using it.
Some suggested that small scale millers should be helped to fortify, as they reach more people, while others felt that the programme should reach out more to rural communities.
Establishment of a Technical Resource Centre or Group was proposed.
Arguments for renewed funding for Smarter Futures
"Fortification has been proven to have an impact. In South Africa, there has been a more than 30 % reduction in NTD's. But the work is not yet done. It is imperative to strengthen QAQC and get all millers to fortify. This needs the assistance of partners such as Smarter Futures, that has the capacity to help resolve technical problems, like an apparent maize discolouration issue as efficiently as possible".
"With the technical support of Smarter Futures we have been able to get our legislation approved and start fortification of flour and other products. Without continuity in training, monitoring and surveillance, through the work of Smarter Futures and other partners and donors, we will not be able to achieve as much and achieve sustainability in our programme".
"Smarter Futures is our mum, good fortification strategies in Africa are the baby which has just been born and is starting to crawl. It is still too early to leave baby alone, lest he might not walk quickly and properly. We need Smarter Futures to help us build sustainable programmes".
"Smarter Futures encourages discussions and identification of key points to advance implementation of fortification in Africa through bringing together multi-sectoral teams of participants from several African countries, who freely talk about their nutritional situation, fortification needs, flour production, industry capacity, willingness to fortify, legislation and other aspects related to the feasibility of flour fortification in Africa".
Smarter Futures aims to build capacity in these networks and provides technical support and training to all members of National Flour Fortification Alliances. A number of tools were developed, such as:
- Advocacy toolkit for fortification of flour with folic acid
- FORTIMAS on-line monitoring and surveillance tool
- Miller’s toolkit
- Cost-Benefit Analysis Modelling Tool
Reports of all trainings and meetings held are to be found on www.SmarterFutures.net/events, which also acts as a depository of all materials developed.
Smarter Futures does not itself invest large programme resources but supports and strengthens the efforts of its network partners, e.g. the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, UNICEF, USAID, the Micronutrient Initiative (MI) and others.
Smarter Futures brings in technical expertise and training tools and brings people together across sectors and across countries.