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DSM zeroes in on closing nutrition gap with fortification initiatives ahead of World Hunger Day

May 29, 2022
Food & Drink

In light of World Hunger Day, DSM has pledged to reach 800 million people with improved nutrition, including fortified staples such as rice, edible oil, flour and public health supplementation. The move is part of the company’s strategy to tackle the “micronutrient gap,” amid an observed trend toward fortified foods.

“There is growing awareness of fortification’s role as a cost-effective public health intervention. As a result, we expect demand to rise for customized nutrient premixes tailored for the fight against nutrient deficiencies,” Yannick Foing, global segment director nutrition improvement, DSM tells NutritionInsight, ahead of World Hunger Day on May 28.

The strategy has been implemented to lessen the consequences of rising global hunger, severe wasting, and malnutrition, worsened as a result of the war in Ukraine and rising inflation.

“These nutritional solutions will play an important role as we strive to reach the third of the world’s population that currently lacks adequate nutrition, scaling up from the few hundred million people that we reach today,” Foing explains.

The trend for fortified foods is broader than in low-to-middle income countries, such as the UK’s recent decision to add folic acid to staple food products to help protect babies from neural tube defects.

Efforts to snuff out the “ring of fire”
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have sent out several warnings as the number of severely food insecure people in Latin America and the Caribbean has shot up by over half a million between December 2021 and March 2022.

Caribbean islands that import a large part of their food are set to feel the brunt as the cost of sea freight soars.

WFP urgently requires US$315 million to cover its operational costs across the region over the next six months. Amid rising food insecurity, the region braces itself for a third above-average Atlantic hurricane season starting in June, which has the potential to push more people into hunger.

“Partnerships with stakeholders in the nutrition industry, governments, UN agencies and NGOs are critical if we are to drive progress toward this commitment. We’re already putting change into motion with several collaborations worldwide,” explains Foing.

“Together with UNICEF, we are – for example – increasing the availability and accessibility of micronutrient powders (MNP) for older infants and young children and multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS) for women during pregnancy – improving the nutritional well-being of the next generation in Nigeria.”

Another of DSM’s collaborations is with the WFP, where the two will scale up rice fortification.

Fight for resources
Recurrent drought in Kirundo province, Burundi has compromised crops since 2005, leaving families in disarray, not knowing how to fill their daily food needs.

The country, the second poorest globally by gross domestic product (GDP), is land-locked at the center of Africa, and its hilly topography makes it highly vulnerable to climate-related disasters. Heavy rains, floods, landslides and droughts are the most common shocks. Excess rainfall has caused the waters of Lake Tanganyika to rise, displacing thousands of people.

“Accessibility is a significant challenge. Economic and supply chain issues worldwide have left families struggling to provide a varied, nutritious diet for their children. Here, fortified foods, such as fortified rice, can play an important role as an affordable and nutritious solution,” adds Foing.

“But organizations must build their supply chains to ensure those in need have access and the product’s efficacy is protected. Take storage as one example. Successful fortification initiatives rely on effective storage to ensure micronutrient stability, preparation and acceptance,” he says.

“With more legislation advocating for fortification initiatives, infrastructure must be put in place to optimize storage and preparation facilities for effective interventions,” Foing explains.

The fight for resources adds pressure to a country where 90% of the population relies on subsistence farming and 38% of the land is heavily degraded.

Boosting accessibility
This year, Burundi is heading for a record drought. In addition, the Sahel, which runs south of the Sahara desert, encompassing Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, is currently experiencing some of its driest conditions in years. Hunger is expected to affect 10.5 million people, including more than a million teetering on the edge of starvation.

The Horn of Africa is currently enduring the worst drought in decades, which, together with conflict, the economic effects of COVID-19 and the current spike in food and fuel prices, is putting countries such as Ethiopia, South Sudan and others at serious risk of famine.

The World Food Programme (WFP) requires US$21.5 billion to reach 147 million people in 2022.

Foing continues: “Mandatory fortification and distribution of fortified products via a ‘social safety net’ – where nutrition solutions are provided to vulnerable populations through organized public sector programs – can also help to boost accessibility. Through both distribution models, consumers do not need to alter their purchasing or cooking habits, which can lead to greater acceptance and compliance.”

According to the WHO, more than 5.2 million people in Tigray, Ethiopia, need humanitarian support due to the conflict that erupted at the end of 2020. The conflict has spilled over into neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara. Over 2.1 million people have been displaced with limited access to water and sanitation. Millions of people face acute food insecurity in the region, with over 400 000 people close to famine.

Advocating for increase in investment
Food insecurity now affects 9.3 million people in the countries where WFP has a presence. In a worst-case scenario, where the conflict in Ukraine continues unabated, the figure could rise to 13.3 million.

Margot van der Velden, head, emergencies department, WFP, says conflict and insecurity are the main drivers of hunger. In Ukraine, their combination is causing the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis globally.

”The Ukraine conflict has caused upheaval in global food and energy markets, with soaring food and fuel prices putting millions at risk of hunger worldwide,” says Van der Velden. If it continues unabated, up to 323 million people could face acute hunger in 2022, she warns.

“WFP also advocates for the increase of investment in early warning tools which are crucial to identify emerging risks and translate them into concrete anticipatory actions to mitigate the impact of a crisis,” says Van der Velden.

By Inga de Jong


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