GOVERNMENT is encouraging consumers to buy fortified foods after a survey showed that 26% of children were experiencing stunted growth, while malnutrition was rampant across all provinces.
BY TATENDA CHITAGU
In July 2017, government introduced mandatory fortification of cooking oil, sugar, flour and maize meal, but knowledge and awareness on fortified foods still remains low.
Fortification is the process of adding minute levels of vitamins and minerals to foods.
It involves the addition of one or more micronutrients during conventional crop breeding (bio-fortification), food processing (industrial fortification) and food preparation (home fortification) regardless of whether the micronutrient is present or not in the said food to increase the micronutrient intake in a population.
Speaking at a food fortification stakeholders meeting recently held in Masvingo, nutritionist in the Health and Child Care ministry Dexter Chagwena said the Zimbabwe National Nutrition Survey for 2018 showed disturbing figures of stunted growth and malnutrition among children, which calls for the increased uptake of fortified foods.
“Whilst stunting prevalence has declined from 33% in 2010 to 26% in 2018, it remains above the acceptable global threshold of 20%.
Furthermore, 35 districts are above the national average of 26%, while 14 districts are in the high prevalence category according to World Health Organisation classifications (30-39%).
“Stunting reduction programmes need to be scaled up to accelerate reduction towards the Malabo declaration target of 10% by 2025,” Chagwena said.
The Malabo declaration has seven overarching targets which include a recommitment to the principles and values of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme process, recommitment to enhance investment finance in agriculture, to ending hunger by 2025, to halving poverty by 2025, to boosting intra-African trade; to enhancing resilience in livelihoods and production systems to climate variability and other shocks and to mutual accountability to actions and results.
A total of 28 464 households were interviewed and 34 714 children aged six to 59 months were measured.
In Masvingo province, children in Bikita district have the highest stunted growth in the province, according to the survey.
Bikita recorded 29,9% of stunted growth in children, followed by Gutu (28,7%), Masvingo rural (27,2 %) and Chivi (26,9%). Zaka recorded 26,3% of stunted kids, while Mwenezi and Chiredzi had 25,8 % and 24,7 % respectively.
Households in Masvingo interviewed were 3 431, while 4 431 children were measured Masvingo provincial administrator Farai Mbetsa, speaking at the same event, said such disturbing malnutrition figures prompted the government to come up with mandatory food fortification.
“Mandatory food fortification is a strategy adopted by the government to improve the quality of diets. Only 12% of the households reported having heard about fortified foods.
There is need for mechanisms to facilitate improved knowledge and awareness among households on micronutrient control interventions through community-oriented social behaviour change communication (SBCC) strategies.
There is also need for more resources to be channelled to the Ministry of Health and Child Care to ensure increased social marketing and private-public-partnerships to increase investment in food fortification,” Mbetsa said.
Chagwena said government had started subsidising the food fortification programme by wavering duty on fortification equipment and adopting the cost for quantitative monitoring on fortified food items and the experts to undertake the process.