By Ndey Sowe
Abdul Aziz Ceesay, the Coordinator of the National Alliance for Food Fortification (NAFF), on Wednesday, 29 of December disclosed a pilot program for rice fortification that his institution is undertaking for consumers in the Gambia.
“NAFF has achieved some fortification on salt and flour and we are piloting rice fortification with the help of the World Food Programme (WFP) office in the Gambia,” Ceesay disclosed at a quarterly meeting of NAFF held at a local hotel in Kotu, since its establishment on Wednesday.
According to NAFF officials, this is the last meeting of the year on the project, which is funded by the EU-FAO, and it has been running since 2017, and is expected to end in February 2022. According to Ceesay, the project aims to address micro-nutrient deficiencies in the Gambia, which mostly affects women of child bearing age and children under five; stressing that the target food vehicles are wide and includes flour, edible fats and oil and the iodization of salt.
For the information of the general readership, food fortification is defined as the practice of adding vitamins and minerals to commonly consumed foods during processing, to increase their nutritional value. It is a proven, safe and cost-effective strategy for improving diets and for the prevention and control of micronutrient deficiencies. It can be carried out by food manufacturers or by Governments as a public health policy, with the aim of reducing the number of people with dietary deficiencies within a population.
If readers can recall, the Food Safety and Quality Authority (FSQA) of the Gambia on Wednesday, 7 July, 2021 launched the country’s Food Fortification Regulations 2020. The Food Fortification Regulations, 2020, was developed to serve as a regulatory tool for compliance and enforcement on edible fats and oil, wheat flour and food grade salt, as well as to regulate what is imported and locally produced for the country’s markets.
The launching, which was presided over by Vice President Dr. Isatou Touray, was part of the European Union’s four-year project on the improvement of food security and nutrition in the Gambia, through Food Fortification.
Mr. Cessay, who also doubles as the Programme Manager at the National Nutrition Agency (NaNA), said NAFF is a national platform set up by the Food Fortification and Bio fortification project; adding that it is also a platform where the Government and the private sector will benefit from, saying it will bring together public / private partnership as far as food fortification is concerned, for discussion on policy issues regarding food security and nutrition, as well as food fortification in the Gambia.
Ceesay described the project as an important one, as they will discuss some of the important issues to improve on the nutritional and health status of people in the country; stressing that research has shown a high level of mal-nutrition and micro- deficiency in the Gambia.
In this respect, he said the Gambia did not reach the level to bring the mal-nutrition down.
“At NaNA, we want to bring the mal-nutrition situation in the country down and to also address micro-nutrient deficiency. The presence of NAFF is very important because it will address the micro-nutrient deficiency. We were able to build the capacity of the laboratories in this country by buying them some equipment, including NARI,” Ceesay said; adding that regulations are in place for food fortification thanks to the food and bio-fortification project. He said it is a project that really helps the country to develop standards for oil, flour, salt as well as the rice. He therefore urged the private sector who are engaged in selling or fortifying the food vehicles to take ownership of the project because they play a critical role as far as food fortification is concerned.
Halimatou Bah, National Nutrition Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), disclosed that the project will support the implementation of their work plans.
“Food fortification is one of the most cost-effective strategies in addressing micro-nutrient deficiencies and we are targeting foods that are usually consumed by the population, fortifying them with micro-nutrients,” she said.
“We expect that by the end of the project, we will address micro-nutrient deficiencies such as iron deficiency, anemia, iodine disorders, and vitamin A deficiencies. We are expecting to have a sustainability plan because the project is already facing out. So we would expect to have a plan in place for sustainability of the gains that are already registered.”
She implored the private sector to have interest in the fortification programme because they are key players in the whole initiative.
Malang N. Fofana, Deputy Executive Director of NaNA, said NAFF is an important platform for food fortification in The Gambia, and encouraged all the members of NAFF to ensure that the project is sustained.
“We have to sacrifice and show commitment to ensure NAFF survives and plays its role in food fortification in the Gambia,” he urged.