The programme – the Zimbabwe National Food Fortification Strategy (2014-2018) – had been launched in November 2015 and makes it compulsory to fortify sugar, cooking oil, maize meal and wheat flour.
David Parirenyatwa, Zimbabwe’s minister of health and child welfare, told Farmer’s Weekly: “We are firmly on course. From July 1, there would be mandatory food fortification in the country and those who must be consulted have been consulted.
Food fortification is a strategy to promote the health of our people, to guard against complications that may arise due to micro-nutrient deficiency.”
The World Health Organization defines food fortification as adding minute levels of vitamins and minerals to foods during processing. This is done even if the micro-nutrient is present in the food.
Food fortification helps prevent and control micronutrient deficiency diseases such as goitre, anaemia, impaired vision and mental retardation.
The government said the strategy would help address a micro-nutrient deficiency revealed after a micronutrient survey conducted in 2012.
The study established that 19% of children aged between six and 59 months were vitamin A-deficient, 72% had iron deficiency, while 31% were anaemic. It also reported that 1,5 million adults who are anaemic struggle to perform well at work.
Sugar suppliers Tongaat Hulett and Star Africa Corporation have also complied with the government directive and fortified their products with vitamin A.
The Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) has opposed the programme’s timing and has been in talks with Parirenyatwa, to no effect. The organisation asked Mike Bimba, commerce and industry minister, to intervene.
In their letter, GMAZ explained that the costs to implement the programme are too high: some US$20 million (R300 million) to import food fortification equipment and machinery, and another US$7 million (R105 million) monthly to import fortificants. They also said the government had not consulted consumers.
According to the letter, written by Tafadzwa Musarara, GMAZ chairperson: “There are no local manufacturers of these fortificants and the dosing machinery and as such, mandatory fortification will worsen the milling industry’s nostro currency liabilities.”
The letter also pointed out that there is no meaningful awareness campaign to inform consumers about the fortified products, or to get their buy-in.
Musarara wrote: “The risks that arise, from a business perspective, is that consumers may resist these artificial additives resulting in significant slump of sales.”