By: Talking Nutrition Editors
Low micronutrient intakes have led to a rise in ‘hidden hunger’, a phenomenon where a diet is lacking in essential vitamins and minerals despite having adequate energy content. Deficiencies of vital nutrients continue to be a public health issue on a global scale, and governments, organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) all have an opportunity to work together to overcome this challenge, partnering with manufacturers to integrate essential micronutrients into staple foods, such as flour, rice and oil.
Nigeria is one of many countries around the world where citizens aren’t currently getting enough key vitamins and minerals in their diets. Anemia is a significant challenge in the country. In 2019, nearly 70% of Nigerian children suffered from anemia, which – according to research by the University of Istanbul – can cause permanent developmental setbacks, leading to reduced intelligence test scores and significantly impaired motor skills.3,4 In adults, more than 50% of Nigerian women are anemic, making it an important risk factor in maternal deaths in a country that has the 4th highest maternal death rate in the world.5
Food fortification, where key nutrients like iron, vitamin A and zinc are added to staple foods such as wheat flour, maize flour and oil, is one of the safest, most effective and affordable ways of addressing micronutrient gaps and tackling health conditions such as anemia on a global scale.
Food fortification has the potential to make hidden hunger an issue of the past, enabling millions of individuals worldwide to enjoy healthier futures. The process of food fortification involves adding essential vitamins and minerals to staple foods. This ensures that everyday products have the necessary nutrients to support the adequate nutritional status of individuals in countries such as Nigeria.
As some of the most widely distributed consumer staple foods, wheat and maize flour are easily fortified with micronutrients like folic acid, meaning that there is a huge window of opportunity for flour products to support public health. There are now 87 countries worldwide where it is mandatory to fortify at least one industrially milled cereal grain, such as maize or wheat.6 Since mandating the addition of folic acid to wheat four in 1998, the United States has seen neural tube defects in babies fall by 28%.7 These real-world improvements highlight the need for more countries to take similar steps to address micronutrient deficiencies.
Another staple food group in Nigeria is edible oil, which provides energy and access to fat-soluble vitamins, as well as essential fatty acids that are crucial for optimal growth and development. Olive, palm and sunflower oils can all be fortified with fat-soluble vitamins to increase their nutritional value so that they become rich sources of vitamins A, D and E and ensure vulnerable populations can access the micronutrients they so desperately need.
By working with food manufacturers and producers to integrate essential micronutrients into staple food products through fortification, governments and NGOs can make a significant impact on the health of malnourished populations. Moreover, such strategies have been shown to play an important role in increasing productivity and therefore stimulating the growth of a country’s economy.8
The fortification of wheat flour, maize flour and vegetable oil has been mandatory in Nigeria for over ten years but ensuring that the micronutrient content of the food items meets the required standards has been challenging.9 Foods have been found to be inadequately fortified, or even unfortified, when spot tested at the market level. This has hindered the progress of food fortification initiatives in fighting Nigeria’s high prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies and hidden hunger.
DSM is working together with GAIN, TechnoServe and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to spearhead the implementation of a pilot program, which will see the development of a digitalized system that checks whether staple foods are fortified with the right levels of essential vitamins and minerals. This system will help ensure products are adequately fortified to support public health, while simultaneously increasing the efficiency and profitability of Nigerian producers, knowing that the nutrient content of their product is guaranteed. The technology will also empower compliance to national mandates present in Nigeria from a regulatory and legal perspective.
The Nigerian food producers involved in the pilot will receive support from a team of experts to co-design and install the new digital quality assurance system. This technology will utilize state-of-the-art diagnostic tools, from in-line sensors to monitor production flows to calibration aids and reporting software, that can deliver guaranteed quality and insights important to the bottom line. Through embracing digital, nutritional improvements can be assessed and monitored over time, which will play a significant role in reducing health risks by offering a direct path to longer and healthier lives.
In partnership with governments, the private sector and NGOs such as GAIN, DSM is pioneering the establishment of staple food fortification programs worldwide. Together, DSM and partners have the power to transform the nutritional status of vulnerable populations. By scaling up food fortification and maximizing the reach of fortified staple foods, DSM is championing greater consumer compliance and influencing positive policy changes.
Want to know more about how fortification technologies can help tackle micronutrient deficiencies and support progress towards zero hunger?