Championing 'Smarter Futures' in Africa through Flour Fortification

21 August 2012

After a successful launch, the “Smarter Futures” partnership to promote improved nutrition through flour fortification in Africa is scaling up its efforts with a commitment from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands to contribute 1.5 million Euros (US $ 1.8 million) over the next five years. The Dutch support will be matched with financial and in-kind contributions from public and private sector partners including AkzoNobel, the Flour Fortification Initiative (FFI), Helen Keller International (HKI) and the International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (IF).

Flour fortification involves adding essential vitamins and mineral to flour as it is milled, which in turn makes foods prepared with fortified flour more nutritious. Iron, zinc, folic acid, and other B vitamins are commonly added to wheat and maize flours. This has proven to be a cost-effective means of reducing the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia and neural tube birth defects and improving overall health. Many countries in Africa also fortify cooking oil with vitamin A to prevent childhood blindness and improve child survival.

“We are very pleased that with the continued support of the Dutch Government, we can take Smarter Futures to the next level,” said Scott Montgomery, Director of the Flour Fortification Initiative which serves as an umbrella organization for Smarter Futures. “We are committed to working efficiently and transparently with our vast network of partners on the ground in Africa to make cereal grain fortification standard milling practice across the continent.”

In September 2008, only six countries in Africa had legislation to require wheat flour fortification. Currently 18 countries in Africa have these mandates, at least three countries fortify more than half their flour through voluntary efforts, and six countries have documented efforts that they are planning a national-scale flour fortification program. See a list of African countries and their wheat flour fortification legislative status.

Country fortification efforts are most successful when they are led by national leaders of multi-sector groups representing the public, private, and civic sectors. These groups often form National Fortification Alliances; Smarter Futures partners work in collaboration with these alliances. Accomplishments from the initial Smarter Futures partnership, a three-year project from 2009 to 2011, include:

  • An African network of millers and their public sector and civic partners was established to provide access to up-to-date technical knowledge and skills about flour fortification.
  • Millers worked constructively with national food control authorities and other public health and civic parties to ensure that high-quality wheat and maize flour, fortified according to the World Health Organizations recommendations, became available on the African market.
  • Based on current scientific evidence, sodium iron EDTA, a highly bio-available iron source, was promoted as a preferred compound for fortifying whole wheat (high extraction) flour. A new semi-quantitative and quantitative method for determining sodium iron EDTA in maize and wheat flour is currently being tested.

Highlights of activities through this scale-up of Smarter Futures over the next five years include:

  • Advocacy efforts in countries without a food fortification strategy to encourage leaders to create an alliance and develop an appropriate fortification intervention.
  • Training programs in quality assurance and quality control for both flour millers and food safety authorities.
  • Training in monitoring and surveillance to ensure fortified products are available and are being consumed.
  • Technical training on fortification practices in mills and other types of technical training in response to needs expressed by National Fortification Alliances.
  • Seminars to compare the cost of flour fortification with the economic advantages of reducing vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
  • Updated tools for capacity building at regional and national levels.
  • Annual multi-sector network meetings to review progress and address concerns.
  • Inclusion of maize flour fortification in relevant countries.
  • An advocacy tool kit regarding spina bifida and other neural tube defects that can be mostly prevented with folic acid.
  • Encouraging parents of children with spina bifida to become advocates for flour fortification.

Improving nutrition is an important step toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal education, establishing gender equality, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health. The Smarter Futures collaboration also demonstrates a commitment to the Millennium Development Goal of establishing global partnerships for development.

For more information on Smarter Futures partners:

  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands promotes Dutch interests abroad. Staff members are actively involved in addressing issues such as poverty reduction, climate change, respect for human rights and the rule of law and eliminating conflict.
  • The International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (IF) is a global membership organization of national and regional organizations of persons with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and/or their caregivers (parents). IF has 44 full members in 41 countries. It is developing organizations in Africa.
  • AkzoNobel is the world leader in the production of food grade sodium iron EDTA, the iron compound recommended as the most bioavailable option for fortifying "high extraction" flour (brown flour).
  • Helen Keller International, a non-governmental organization, combats the causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition by establishing programs based on evidence and research in vision, health and nutrition.
  • The Flour Fortification Initiative is a network of partners working together to make flour fortification standard milling practice.