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Published on 16/05/2017

Local fortified foods: a key element in the fight against malnutrition

In 2017, GRET launched three new projects in Madagascar and Niger to improve the nutritional status of vulnerable populations and strengthen sustainable access to fortified foods. 

In Madagascar and Niger, malnutrition remains a major public health and socio-economic problem. It affects a large portion of the population, especially women and children. Among the various forms of malnutrition, the least visible and most forgotten is chronic malnutrition, which manifests itself in delayed growth and leads to irreversible consequences in adults: 47 % of Malagasy children under the age of five and 43 % of Nigerian children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Inappropriate food practices and illnesses are often the direct cause. These are compounded by poor knowledge of recommended nutrition practices and the difficulty for disadvantaged families’ to prepare food of sufficient nutritional quality using unprocessed raw materials. In addition, manufactured foods – when they exist and are sufficient in quality – are mainly imported and very expensive.

To deal with this situation, GRET chose to involve the local private sector to provide manufactured fortified complementary foods and develop appropriate products for women of childbearing age. The three projects launched at the start of the year with financial support from the European Union – in partnership with the Nutri’zaza company in Madagascar, and with Action contre la faim, Concern, the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) and The World Food Programme in Niger – are putting over twenty years of action-research led by GRET and IRD into practice to sustainably prevent malnutrition.

 Local quality fortified products

Based on in-depth studies (nutritional surveys, market studies, etc.) in each zone of intervention, GRET, with the support of IRD, is defining quality fortified foods using as many local products as possible that are appropriate for the context, the nutritional requirements of the targeted populations, local eating habits and the low-income level of families. It supports the private partner to define its production line, production techniques and quality control.

In a second phase, GRET supports local entrepreneurs with the marketing strategy for these quality foods to make them as widely accessible as possible. It provides its expertise for the development of social marketing strategies, especially in the development of distribution models via three types of networks: formal and informal traditional retail outlets in urban and rural areas; the institutional network; innovative proximity networks, especially in poor urban areas. In addition to distribution, a commercial communication strategy is also built with media and non-media tools, in order to help local producers to intensively promote their products to the population and the nutrition stakeholders’ network.

In Madagascar, GRET supports the Nutri’zaza social business to market the Koba Aina infant flours range produced by the TAF company. In Niger, it provides its know-how to the Misola and Garin Yaara production units. In both these countries, new production partners will be identified and supported to develop and expand the local fortified food offer for women and children (aged 6 to 24 months, 2 to 5 and 6 to 14).

Improving nutritional practices and knowledge

In parallel to the provision of fortified foods, GRET works in collaboration with the public sector to disseminate messages aimed at raising awareness on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF). Together they define a joint awareness-raising strategy and communication media, after which GRET trains health professionals at community level and conducts awareness-raising campaigns aimed at the “1,000 days” target (from pregnancy through to the age of  two). In this way, messages on best practices for breast-feeding, complementary feeding, consumption of fortified foods, foods for pregnant & breast-feeding women and more broadly for households are disseminated with a view to improving behaviour. In Madagascar, GRET is supporting the National office of nutrition and the Ministry of Health with this approach. In Niger, it is collaborating closely with the Department of nutrition and the I3N institute (the “Nigeriens feeding Nigeriens initiative”).

For the implementation of a national legal & regulatory framework

The public partners are supported by GRET to define and operate the national legal framework in terms of nutritional fortification, facilitating the mobilisation of the private sector while controlling its action. A quality standard for fortified foods and appropriate regulations in terms of production and marketing of these foods should be defined, together with the creation of a quality label. Companies will be supported in the implementation of standards for their products and national standards and certification agencies will receive support to issue their quality labels.

GRET also supports the implementation of the private sector’s SUN network and accompanies the private sector in the area of nutrition to become structured and adapt to the legal context.

Multi-stakeholder discussions on nutrition – stakeholders in the public and private sectors, working in emergency aid, development, research, in associations and in politics – make it possible to publicise and encourage the use of local quality products.  A comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system is planned, the results of which and lessons learned will be capitalised on and shared with nutrition stakeholders and players in Madagascar, Niger and more broadly at international level.

Nutritional fortification is a widely recognised and supported strategy, both at national and worldwide levels, in order to reduce the lack of micro-nutrients. It primarily involves the private sector, making it possible to reach the largest number of people in a sustainable manner. However, in developing countries this sector is still not greatly mobilised for the market of fortified foods specifically for women and children. The environment is very restrictive for these companies: competition from imported products is very strong; demand remains low because of insufficient promotion of these foods by the public sector and the absence of labels or certification guaranteeing a high quality product for the consumer; and quality standards are strict. In addition, companies do not always have the necessary technical expertise to launch a quality product on the market. Faced with this observation, nutrition stakeholders are becoming increasingly aware of the strong potential of this food fortification strategy and must become mobilised in stakeholder coalitions to collectively meet the malnutrition challenge.

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