Egypt: A Fresh Start for Wheat Flour Fortification

In 2019, the Government of Egypt and FFI laid the foundation for restarting Egypt’s national wheat flour fortification program, on hold since 2011.

Malnutrition from micronutrient deficiencies is a pressing public health issue in Egypt. The need for fortification in Egypt is great: 20-30% of women are anemic,1 birthdefects are three times what they could be if women had adequate intake of folic acid,2 and losses in gross domestic product due to vitamin and mineral deficiencies are over US $800 million annually.3 But the potential for fortification to dramatically improve Egyptians’ nutritional status is even greater: 90% of the population is reached by industrially processed wheat flour that can be easily fortified. Fortification would provide a tremendous opportunity for Egypt to address persistent health and economic challenges.

Photo: A small baladi bread bakery produces 18,000 loaves per day. Nada Elhusseiny/FFI

Photo: A small baladi bread bakery produces 18,000 loaves per day. Nada Elhusseiny/FFI

 

Bread builds bridges

Egypt’s former national fortification program provided fortified baladi bread, a staple food consumed by a majority of Egypt’s low-income population, at a subsidized cost. Through this program, life-saving amounts of folic acid and iron reached approximately 50 million Egyptians. In 2018, the Government of Egypt launched 100 Million Healthy Lives, an initiative that emphasized the critical role of nutrition in health and economic development. To help Egypt’s 100 million citizens access essential micronutrients, the government decided to restart the national wheat flour fortification program. In April 2019, the government requested our technical support. Once a partner agreement was drafted, we quickly got to work on a comprehensive situation assessment. We mapped the opportunities and challenges for flour fortification that lay ahead and helped the government take its next step in planning a successful program.

A stronger future

Building on the assessment and subsequent discussions with stakeholders including government, wheat millers, and consumers, we will help the government develop a realistic plan for restarting—and strengthening—fortification. Egypt does not require wheat flour produced for the open market to be fortified. One of our first recommendations is that the government enact mandatory fortification for wheat flour sold on the open market, an improvement that will ensure fortified wheat flour reaches at least 90% of the population.

Egypt Bread
Photo: Baladi bread. Bernadette/Flickr

 

The partner agreement, approved by all government channels involved in fortification, is expected to be signed in early 2020. Once the program enters the next phase, implementation, we will engage with key in-country partners and provide technical assistance.

From planning to implementation and monitoring, we remain committed to the work of rebuilding a smarter, stronger, and healthier future for Egypt—one baladi bread at a time. 

 

1. World Health Organization The global prevalence of anemia in 2011. 2015.

2. Blencowe, H., et al. Estimates of global and regional prevalence of neural tube defects for 2015: a systematic analysis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2018. 

3. Egypt World Bank. Nutrition at a Glance. Accessed 12 February 2020.