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Ministries join forces with millers in food fortification programme

 CS Rebecca Miano speaks during the launch of the millers for nutrition initiative. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The government has joined forces with milling stakeholders to increase access to high-quality, nutritious staple foods through fortification of cereals.

The initiative that aims to address Kenya's dual threat of malnutrition and food safety was unveiled at an event in Nairobi that was attended by officials from the Health and Agriculture ministries.

In Kenya, malnutrition stands at 18 per cent with children under five grappling with stunted growth. This has negatively impacted the country’s social, economic, health and cultural well-being.

Trade and Industry Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Miano emphasised the often-overlooked importance of micro-nutrient fortification in maintaining human health.

“Today, we are gathered here to address and launch a critical concern of public health that often goes unnoticed by the micro-nutrient fortification index. In our quest for better health and well-being, we often focus on carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, but not so much on the essential role micro-nutrients play," she said.

Brenda Obura, head of the food safety division at the Ministry of Health, said that micro-nutrient deficiency remains a public health concern.

“The most prevalent deficiencies are Vitamin A, Iodine, Iron, and Zinc. Particularly concerning is the high prevalence of zinc deficiency across all population groups: 82 per cent in children under five years, 80 per cent in non-pregnant women, and 75 per cent in men,” she added.

She went on to explain that anaemia is a pressing concern, affecting 23.1 per cent of the population. The situation is particularly dire for pregnant women, with 41.6 per cent affected.

The Ministry of Health, through its Division of Nutrition and Dietetics, is responsible for formulating nutritional policies aimed at preventing and controlling micro-nutrient deficiency.

These policies guide interventions such as therapeutic treatment, supplementation, food fortification, and dietary diversification. Among these strategies, food fortification, which involves adding micro-nutrients to food by industries, is considered the most effective approach.

Since 2015, the ministry has established a regulatory framework under the Food, Drugs, and Chemical Substances Act, mandating the fortification of wheat flour, maize flour, vegetable oils, and fats. This initiative has provided an opportunity for the private sector to facilitate the addition of micro-nutrients to these food items.

As Kenya grapples with food safety concerns, particularly aflatoxin, ensuring safe, nutritious food remains a priority.

Miano urged food manufacturers to adhere strictly to food fortification regulations and invest in technologies that guarantee accurate and uniform fortification of their products.

"Remember, ill health means downtime in labour output, an economic variable we cannot sweep under the carpet," she said.

The initiative is part of a broader effort in eight countries that aim to reach one billion people with fortified foods by 2026.

“For instance, 58 per cent of Kenyan children risk blindness due to vitamin A deficiency, while 32 per cent of women have folate deficiency. Most alarmingly, 37.5 million Kenyans have zinc deficiency,” said Sebastian Oggena, Deputy Director for Kenya TechnoServe.

According to the 2022 Kenya Demographic Health Survey, rural areas have a higher stunting rate (20 per cent) compared to urban areas (12 per cent). Wealth plays a critical role with stunting decreasing from 28 per cent in the poorest households, to just nine per cent among the wealthiest.

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