Facilitating fortification: Industry-led coalition Millers for Nutrition to battle nutrition crisis by scaling up food fortification

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

This new cross-sector partnership aims to improve the diets of 1bn people across Asia and Africa by 2026. ©Millers for Nutrition
This new cross-sector partnership aims to improve the diets of 1bn people across Asia and Africa by 2026. ©Millers for Nutrition

Related tags Fortification fortified foods staple foods Collaboration Nutrition

A new cross-sector partnership aims to help millers produce adequately fortified staple foods in eight countries across Asia and Africa to tackle high rates of micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition among these populations.

Millers for Nutrition was officially launched at Micronutrient Forum 6th Global Conference held in the Netherlands.

In a virtual press briefing, a group of stakeholders shared that their individual capabilities and resources will be leveraged to incentivise and support millers in ensuring sustained fortification of 85% of selected dietary staples, with the goal of improving the diets of 1bn people by 2026.

Specifically, the project will be implemented in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tanzania, and across three staple food categories — rice, edible oil, and flour (wheat and maize).

These countries have been prioritised due to their large populations at risk of micronutrient deficiencies and high levels of malnutrition.

“Millers deal with real-world issues on a day-to-day basis and have a deep understanding of challenges at the ground level. Through this collaborative effort, industry stakeholders can work together to find viable solutions for unique problems in each country. The cross-learning will also help sustain the programme in the long term.

“We are committed to the nutrition, health, and wellness of every Indian citizen. Fortification is a powerful tool in fulfilling that commitment. We are excited to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with likeminded millers and partners from around the globe to launch this coalition,” ​said Sanjeev Asthana, CEO of India-based Patanjali Foods.

Millers for Nutrition’s founding members BASF, dsm-firmenich, Mühlenchemie (SternVitamin), Piramal, BioAnalyt, and Sanku will contribute technical expertise to millers, while the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is providing strategic input and investment.

Coordinated by international non-profit TechnoServe, project activities will align closely with existing national health strategies and nutrition priorities of local governments and NGOs, as well as regulations in each country.

Why food fortification is crucial

According to Millers for Nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies affect 3bn people worldwide, which could lead to serious and lasting health consequences.  

Data shows that malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45% of child deaths, and one-third of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia.

Food fortification is one of the most important solutions to overcome malnutrition and deliver healthier diets, as its benefits can reach entire populations without requiring changes in consumer behaviour.

During the fortification process, millers play a crucial role by adding essential vitamins and minerals to the widely consumed foods that they produce.

For example, fortifying salt with iodine is said to help prevent irreversible brain damage in young children; fortifying flour with iron protects against anaemia; fortifying flour with folic acid helps avert severe birth defects; and fortification with vitamin A supports vision and boosts the immune system.

Turning fortification into business opportunities

Although millers are the key to unlocking the full potential of food fortification in many low- and middle-income countries, they face various challenges, including insufficient government enforcement.

Furthermore, setting up of procedures and continued fortification require a significant investment in equipment, premixes, training of staff, and management time.

“Millers lack the incentives and capabilities necessary to comply effectively with regulatory and voluntary standards. In fact, they are fatigued from being pushed to perform fortification without receiving any recognition. There is also inadequate awareness among consumers about food fortification and the difference it can make,” ​said Paloma Fernandes, CEO of Cereal Millers Association (Kenya).

To address these hurdles, Millers for Nutrition will offer its miller members access to a comprehensive set of services to help them fortify to the “right standards”.

These include free technical and product-testing support, tailored training and business advice, and digital tools and resources to make it easier to fortify, reduce compliance risk, and enhance production efficiency.

As their fortification quality improves, millers can advance to a new membership level, whereby their “rewards” would increase accordingly.

For instance, an annual ranking of milling companies’ fortification performance serves to encourage and celebrate millers who did well, and to drive healthy competition.

This rating index, called Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI), already exists in Nigeria and Kenya, and will be replicated in other countries.

In addition, the coalition offers millers a platform to showcase their ability to raise the nutritional quality of staple foods to key stakeholders at events and in the press.

This exposure is aimed at strengthening their brand equity and reputation for quality, which may in turn bring about business benefits, such as increased market share and sales, and greater access to financial support.

At the same time, Millers for Nutrition seeks to accelerate innovations in food fortification, such as improving the efficiency and effectiveness of premix and product testing, and developing better solutions for small mills.

“Through the sharing of practical tools, best-in-class expertise and training from industry leaders, Millers for Nutrition will enable millers to step up and adopt best practices for food fortification. And by building brand awareness for our members, we will turn good fortification into a business advantage,” ​added Dominic Schofield, global director for food-systems transformation at TechnoServe.

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