Back to basics: how micronutrients can fill the nutrition void in Africa
There is no better way to provide nourishment to those who need it most than through the foods they eat daily
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic only worsened multifaceted poverty conditions across the continent.
Disruptions in interventions against malnutrition such as school feeding schemes have put tremendous strain on various demographic households across the country. Cases of acute malnutrition have remained a crucial underlying cause for mortality in children. In fact, 27% of children in SA are stunted and therefore not likely to reach full growth and development potential due to persistent nutritional deprivation.
The situation, it seems, is only getting worse. Last week Unicef (the United Nations Children’s Fund) announced that 1.5-million children are not receiving the life-saving treatment required to combat severe wasting in East and Southern Africa. This figure accounts for nearly half of the estimated 3.6-million children who are in urgent need.
“Statistics such as these present an urgent call to action to government, the private sector and even communities at large to educate, increase awareness and take action against numbers that will only increase if not addressed,” says Andre Redinger, founder of Millhouse International, an African-owned manufacturer of vitamin and micronutrient blends. “Key to achieving this is to take preventive measures against maternal and child malnutrition at all phases of the life cycle. If that fails, treatment must fall into place.”
Hope, however, does exist, and there are a number of factors that governments and the private sector alike must note if the situation is to change.
Micronutrients and vitamin blends
There is no better way to provide nourishment to those who need it most than through the foods that we consume on a daily basis — staple foods. Micronutrients, though required in small quantities, have a big impact on growth and development. Fortifying foodstuffs such as maize, sugar and flour is an excellent way to ensure the population is healthier — preventing many deficiencies related to iron, vitamin D and the like.
On the continent, organisations such as Millhouse, which manufactures and distributes fortified staple foods to hungry children across SA, are taking action to help prevent malnutrition in the long run. The organisation does not just supply premixes for vitamin A, customised blends and sugar, but also makes sure clients such as small, medium and large mills across Africa have the equipment and technology required to fortify correctly while saving costs.
It is no secret that without the proper regulations and appropriate capacity in place, several issues are more likely to arise.
These include the potential of foods being more susceptible to contamination and other safety risks, less likely to contain the critical vitamins and minerals and labelled or packaged incorrectly.
In cases like these, it becomes crucial that improvements are made to training for the improvement of quality and auditing processes with the purposes of mitigating those issues.
Initiatives can provide a centralised knowledge hub and training network where, with the help of local experts, the local food industry as well as governments can be consulted in recommending tailored and hands-on learning opportunities with the purpose of strengthening their quality of auditing process.
Food safety and analysis
Naturally, is it best practice for food producers to make sure their vitamin and micronutrient blends have been correctly verified. However, the continent does not have the necessary infrastructure to cater to an industry that is dynamic. This means there is no centralised system that can efficiently analyse, validate and uphold the nutritional value of the staple foods. This can lead to potentially worrying outcomes such as delays and ineffective testing.
To address this, Millhouse is in March launching the Millhouse International Biotechnology and Analytical Laboratory, housed at the Parc Científic de Barcelona in Spain. Designed to service the need for swift, cost-effective and trusted testing of vitamin and micronutrient blends, regulated premixes and staple foods, the lab will cater for clients across the African continent and in Europe.
Governments can, by working together through training, and by prioritising the fortification of staple foods, prevent further long-term physical and cognitive damage.
Andre Redinger is founder of Millhouse International.