HARARE – The Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) has called on the Health ministry to halt with immediate effect the mandatory food fortification programme due to liquidity challenges, warning the move will “result in serious maize, flour and bread shortages.”
Zimbabwe’s food fortification — the process of adding minute levels of vitamins and minerals to foods during processing — is set to commence on July 1, this year.
The association argues grain importers are facing challenges in importing the required fortification equipment and fortificants because of foreign currency shortages faced by the country.
But government is adamant, with Health minister David Parirenyatwa insisting the programme will go ahead as planned.
Zimbabwe — which in November last year introduced a unique surrogate currency called bond notes — has experienced mounting foreign currency shortages, particularly the United States dollar, that have crippled importers.
Last year, the country launched the National Food Fortification Strategy — aimed at boosting the nation’s nutrition strategy — to address the micronutrient deficiency burden in the country as revealed by the 2012 Zimbabwe Micronutrient survey.
According to the survey, 19 percent of children between 6 – 59 months are vitamin A deficient while 72 percent have iron deficiency and 31 percent are anaemic.
GMAZ said “after conducting nationwide consultations”, they seek an “indefinite postponement of the initiative.”
“Our decision is informed by….the prevalent nostro currency liquidity challenges are severely affecting the timeous remittances of imported wheat and maize,” the association’s chairman Tafadzwa Musarara said in a May 11 letter to Parirenyatwa, adding that “consequently, we have been unable to meet import payments for the acquisition of fortification equipment and fortificants.”
He argued: “Government and development partners have not done massive and extensive consumer awareness campaign to sensitise the public about these additives.”
Musarara said the “timing of the commencement of the mandatory programme must be postponed until such a time…all requisite variables are in place.”
However, Parirenyatwa argued the programme is crucial in improving the population’s nutrition.
“As far as we are concerned, the fortification is good for our people and our children. We want it implemented. We are not going to give them (GMAZ) more time”, Parirenyatwa told the Daily News in a telephone interview from Geneva, Switzerland.
Launching the fortification strategy last year, Parirenyatwa said the National Micronutrient Survey of 2012 indicated that many Zimbabweans, particularly women and children, are micronutrient deficient, and do not have the proper nutrition they need to stay healthy and active.
Food fortification is one of many ways to prevent and control micronutrient deficiency diseases such as goitre, anaemia, impaired vision and mental retardation.
The food vehicles targeted for fortification are sugar, cooking oil, maize meal, and wheat flour.