A World Free from Hidden Hunger

Finding new ways to fight hidden hunger is a core part of our mission, and we are always on the look-out for cost-effective and sustainable ideas. Fortifying a variety of foods with essential micronutrients is one of those ideas, and Nutrition International has led the charge in building a global food fortification network.

Food fortification has been identified by the World Health Organization, the Copenhagen Consensus and the Food and Agriculture Organization as one of the top four strategies for decreasing micronutrient malnutrition at the global level. Nutrition International is supporting this strategy through a number of fortification programs, including salt iodization, grain and oil fortification.

Our work in food fortification is aimed at compensating for what’s not available in local diets caused by such factors as micronutrient deficient foods due to poor soil conditions, lack of access to nutritious food and poverty. Monitoring, training, education and evaluation are all part of the rigorous processes involved with Nutrition International’s fortification programs around the world.

What is food fortification?

Food fortification – also known as food enrichment – is when nutrients are added to food at higher levels than what the original food provides. This is done to address micronutrient deficiencies across populations, countries and regions.

Governments working with industry, international agencies and NGOs have used this method to help reduce and eliminate micronutrient deficiencies in their populations.

Fortification of centrally-processed staple foods is a simple, affordable and viable approach to reach large sections of a country’s population with iron, folic acid, and other essential micronutrients.

Adding micronutrients to common staple foods can significantly improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and improve public health with minimal risk.  The foods most commonly fortified are salt, wheat, corn, rice, bouillon cubes, soya sauce and other condiments.

Fortifying commonly-eaten grains such as wheat, maize flour and rice is among the easiest and least expensive ways to prevent disease, strengthen immune systems and nurture a healthy and productive next generation.

Currently, 79 countries around the world have made it the law to fortify at least one major grain: 78 of them fortify wheat flour, 12 fortify maize products and five fortify rice. These grains are usually fortified with vitamin A, iron and folic acid, which help prevent blindness, anaemia and birth defects, and improve mental function.

Nutrition International’s Grain Fortification Programs

Nutrition International leads and supports grain fortification efforts in developing countries through a number of programs including:

  • Partnering with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), UNICEF and the South African government to help large South African flour mills fortify maize and wheat flour with vitamin A, iron, and folic acid.
  • Working with the World Food Programme (WFP) and flour millers in Pakistan to fortify flour for distribution in Afghanistan, where it reached about 2.5 million people.
  • Supporting and expanding wheat and maize flour fortification programs, including national programs in Yemen, Iran, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bolivia.
  • Working with the Food Fortification Initiative, a network of public and private agencies, to increase flour fortification in developing countries.
  • Advocating together with UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and other organizations, to increase the number of countries routinely adding iron to flour from two in 1990 to 79 in 2014, including Central and South America and the Middle East, Indonesia, Nigeria and South Africa.
While less widespread than grain fortification, fortifying cooking oil with vitamin A and other micronutrients is also a simple and inexpensive way to fight vitamin A deficiency and disease. Cooking oil is an ideal carrier for micronutrients because it is so commonly used and the cost of fortification at the production stage is low.

Nutrition International supports the fortification of cooking oil in a number of ways:

  • Training nutrition consultants from developing nations and giving them the tools to lobby their national governments and private industry to add vitamin A to cooking oils and grains.
  • Working with cooking oil producers to show them how to easily fortify their products without significantly adding to the cost.
  • Supporting governments in drafting legislation to make it mandatory to fortify cooking oil with vitamin A and wheat flour with iron and folic acid, leveling the playing field for all oil and grain producers.
  • Helping governments, especially quality control authorities, in strengthening their capacity to  put in place a strong quality control system and a viable enforcement mechanism.
  • Helping cooking oil manufacturers upgrade their equipment for fortification and laboratories strengthening for internal quality control.

Food fortification can happen at the household level, the community level or, most commonly, at the industrial level:

  • Mass fortification is when micronutrients are added to foods commonly consumed by the mass population – such as cereals and condiments.
  • Universal fortification is when micronutrients are added to food consumed by animals as well as people, such as with iodization of salt.
  • Targeted fortification exists in such areas as school food programs, when, for example, a cracker is specifically fortified for a targeted age group.

Fortification of foods is either mandatory, which means it is legislated by the government, or voluntary.  Fortification of centrally-processed staples is a simple, affordable and viable approach to reaching major sections of the population with essential vitamins and minerals.