Food fortification is an important component to the comprehensive response to the devastating impacts of malnutrition. And millers can play a vital role in tackling this growing crisis.
Given its benefits and proven approach, food fortification is a massively underutilised tool in global efforts to end preventable diseases and death.
While governments have the lead responsibility for establishing nutrition policies and food fortification standards, millers - who are responsible for fortifying staple foods in many low- and middle-income countries - also have a critical role to play in improving diets.
However, despite mandatory regulations and voluntary standards in numerous countries to fortify appropriately, implementation often lags because millers face numerous challenges. Insufficient government enforcement and consumer demand often reduces the incentive to fortify, while setting up fortification procedures and fortifying adequately and consistently requires a significant investment in equipment, premix, training of staff and management time.
To date, too little attention has been paid to creating the incentives and capabilities necessary for millers to comply effectively with regulations and voluntary standards.
So, to set the wheels in motion, stakeholders from the industry - such as BASF, dsm-firmenich and Mühlenchemie/SternVitamin, among others - came together to launch Miller for Nutrition at the Micronutrient Forum’s 6th Global Nutrition for Resilience Conference, held in The Hague last month.
The coalition has an ambitious target to reach one billion people by 2026 with adequately fortified flour, rice and cooking oil. In fact, it’s pledged to ensure the adequate and sustained fortification of 85% of selected industrially processed, fortifiable staples. And will be working with the companies that together capture 85% of the market share of these foods in at least eight countries.
Millers for Nutrition is now on a drive to encourage millers to join the movement and is offering free tech support to those who make the commitment.
This includes access to tailored technical training and business advice, product testing support and online tools and resources, which will also help millers to reduce their compliance risk and enhance production efficiency. As fortification quality improves, members will benefit as they gain greater recognition for product quality and industry leadership, for example, through inclusion in a specially designed index that rates brands on fortification performance. Millers will also get all the associated visibility at events and in local media.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with like-minded stakeholders
Millers for Nutrition is a cross-sector partnership, with millers at the centre and industry partners from across the food fortification value chain - including founding partners BASF, dsm-firmenich, Mühlenchemie/SternVitamin, Piramal, BioAnalyt and Sanku - contributing the tech expertise and support. Local partners will provide support in specific geographies or staples, such as Hexagon Nutrition in India.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is providing the strategic input and investment.
“Fortified foods make a powerful difference in the health and diets of people every day - and they simply wouldn’t be possible without the leadership of millers,” said Rodger Voorhies, president, Global Growth and Opportunity for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We are delighted to support Millers for Nutrition alongside our industry partners to ensure millers receive the recognition they deserve, and to support them in increasing access to nourishing foods for those who need it most.”
International nonprofit TechnoServe - which has significant experience supporting industry-led fortification capacity building efforts - will coordinate the programme activities.
“Millers for Nutrition members stand apart because they represent a commitment to fortification excellence and product quality that improves the lives of the people they serve,” said Dominic Schofield, global director for food-systems transformation at TechnoServe.
“By sharing practical tools and best in class expertise and training from industry leaders, Millers for Nutrition will enable millers to step up and adopt food fortification best practices.
“And, by building brand awareness for our members, we will turn good fortification into a business advantage.”
The programme is initially rolling out across Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tanzania, and focussed on three staples - flour (wheat and maize), rice and edible oil. In each country, activities will be based on government-led priorities and legislation and will align closely with the existing nutrition and food fortification strategies of governments and NGO partners. It is also differentiated from existing programmes by its focus on making food fortification both easier and more rewarding for millers.
These countries have been prioritised due to their large populations at risk of micronutrient deficiencies and high levels of malnutrition. The work done by Millers for Nutrition will directly contribute to the UN’s SDG 2 (to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture) and complements existing food, nutrition and fortification initiatives.
A gamechanging initiative
The coalition has been set up to provide millers with all the support they need to jump onto the fortification bandwagon.
On joining, millers will be classed according to their experience - whether just beginning their fortification journey or long experienced champions - and will ‘graduate’ to new levels as they progress.
Millers for Nutrition hosts an annual ranking of brand’s fortification performance, in order to encourage ‘a race to the top’ among millers. This rating already exists in Nigeria and Kenya - known as the Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI) - and will be replicated in other countries.
Milling companies are rated based on their own reports and independent testing. To maintain transparency standards, millers must commit to sharing information about their fortification activities.
The platform also doubles as a marketing tool for member millers to advertise their involvement. This visibility will be punted to the national and international media and at events, strengthening the miller’s reputation and brand as quality food processors, which in turn create benefits like increased market share and sales, recognition from government and improved access to finance.
Millers for Nutrition also serves as a platform for accelerating and scaling industry-led innovation, such as, for example, helping to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of premix and product testing (BioAnalyt) and developing better solutions for small mills (Sanku).
“Every day, millers overcome difficult operational and business challenges to deliver healthy, quality food products to consumers,” said Paloma Fernandes, CEO of the Cereal Millers Association of Kenya, which supports the new coalition.
“Millers for Nutrition is a gamechanging initiative that will make this vital work easier, and in so doing, will bring better nutrition to millions of people in Kenya.”
Added Sanjeev Asthana, CEO of Patanjali Foods, a Millers for Nutrition member in India, “Our company is 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 like-minded millers and stakeholders from around the globe to launch this coalition and deliver better nutrition to our communities.”
Why is scaling food fortification so important to reducing malnutrition?
Currently, micronutrient deficiencies affect 3 billion people and cause severe and lasting health issues
- Malnutrition is underlying cause of 45% child deaths
- 155 million children are stunted each year (physical and cognitive)
- A third of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia (including 40% pregnant women)
Enter fortification, which is one of the most powerful tools to tackle malnutrition, thanks to its scalability, sustainability and cost effectiveness.
Food fortification reaches entire populations and at the same time, benefits those who need it most. Requiring no behaviour change by consumers, consuming more of even one micronutrient can prevent serious health consequences, for example:
- Fortifying salt with iodine helps to prevent irreversible brain damage in young children
- Fortifying flour with iron helps to protect against anaemia, while adding folic acid helps to prevent severe birth defects like neural tube defects and spina bifida
- Fortifying staples with vitamin A supports eyesight, boosts immune systems and can save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
In essence, food fortification is a driver of human capital: it’s essential to cognitive development and increased productivity for individuals and generates economic returns for nations. Every $1 invested in fortification generates $27 in economic return from prevented disease, improved earnings and enhanced work productivity.
As such, Millers for Nutrition aims to make producing adequately fortified, nutritious food good for a miller’s business and good for the health of the communities they serve.
Millers for Nutrition partners
Milling industry partners
Cereal Millers Association (CMA) (Kenya), Flour Millers Association of Nigeria (FMAN), Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), Vegetable and Edible Oil Producers Association of Nigeria (VEOPAN), Ethiopian Millers Association (EMA), The Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN), Ethiopian Edible Oil Producers Manufacturing Industry Association
Industry partners from across the food fortification value chain
BASF, dsm-firmenich, Mühlenchemie/SternVitamin, Piramal, BioAnalyt and Sanku
Regional and local technical partners
Hexagon Nutrition in India, among others
Ecosystem and technical partners
NIFTEM (India), Bühler / African Milling School, GAIN, Nutrition International, WFP, PATH, FFI, Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), Endeva, JKUATT, Lagos Business School (Nigeria), FBIRDC (Ethiopia)
By aligning the individual capabilities and resources of multiple partners to incentivise and support millers to fortify to correct standards, Millers for Nutrition aims to achieve a greater collective impact on improving the diets of millions of people through the scaling up of food fortification.