Mandatory flour fortification in Africa needs educational support, says Mühlenchemie
The Hamburg-headquartered flour-enrichment specialist held a three-day symposium in Cameroon at the end of April that pooled together 80 people from seven countries to transfer knowledge on flour quality and fortification.
The majority of countries in francophone Africa (the Western, French-speaking countries) now have a mandatory flour fortification policy headed up by local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the state. The policy was implemented in Cameroon in January 2012.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) collates data on the nutritional needs of each country to determine fortification requirements. Private companies then work to develop such mixes for use in flour, like Mühlenchemie.
Fabien Varagnac, technical sales manager for Mühlenchemie in French-speaking regions, said that there are vast business opportunities in flour enrichment due to nutritional deficiencies across the continent.
Across Africa, more than 40% of pregnant woman and pre-school children are suffering with anaemia, Varagnac told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Zinc deficiency is also highest in Africa, he added.
“Mandatory flour fortification is a first step,” but education at ground-level is essential for it to be successfully maintained, he said.
This educational aspect is the most complicated, he added, “as many millers just see the over-costs”.
Educating essential in emerging market
Overall the costs are small, he noted, but the local millers see it as costly, “so it is essential to educate them on the importance of fortification and its benefits not only to the people in the country but also economic development”.
The symposium covered issues on implementing fortification in the area, the technical management and benefits it can have not only on people but the wider economy, he detailed.
The firm is also dedicated on involving millers directly in quality management, to ensure a regular standard throughout production.
“Africa is really an emerging market, especially its flour industry… In the past most of the flour was imported from Europe but now most of it is produced locally – around 70-80%,” he said.
“There are new demands and local industry is becoming more involved in fortification,” he added.
Fortifying according to needs
Mühlenchemie has developed a pre-mix for flour enrichment that can be directly incorporated into the flour during production, just before packaging, Varagnac said.
“Enrichment depends on each country. The micronutrients needed are not the same,” he noted.
In Cameroon, the mandatory requirement is to fortify flour with iron and B12 – to prevent anaemia, strengthening the body and improving oxygen flow, zinc to support the immune system and folic acid to prevent neural tube defects, he detailed.
The requirement is 400g/tonne of flour – this is for technical reasons and to ensure efficacy, he said.
There are also opportunities for porridge fortification or cassava (a woody shrub) enrichment as it is a staple food across the continent, Varagnac said, but this would be more complicated due to poor infrastructure.
He revealed that he has just commenced a project with the state of Cameroon exploring the possibilities of cassava and bread fortification across the country but noted it was at “extremely early stages”.