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Millers call for suspension of food fortification

ZIMBABWE - The grain milling industry has requested Government to suspend indefinitely, the mandatory food fortification programme scheduled to commence next month saying it would cost about $20 million to import the equipment and machinery for the process.

Furthermore, the milling industry would require about $7 million monthly for the importation of fortificants if Government proceeded to force through the July 1 fortification commencement date.

The Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe chairman Mr Tafadzwa Musarara said while millers supported Government's initiative to fortify the country's four main food commodities namely sugar, cooking oil, maize meal and flour which are consumed by about 99,9 percent of the population, it would present new input costs to industry.

"Acting President (Mnangagwa), the country is consuming 1,2 million tonnes of maize meal and 0,4 million tonnes of wheat flour annually.

By imposing the fortification programme on the grain milling industry without providing the necessary financial support, the Government is now forcing the milling industry to incur an import bill of circa $20 million to import the equipment and machinery to do the fortification, and a monthly bill of $7 million of fortificants.

These funds are not available and we pray that this obligation be waived," said Mr Musarara.

He was presenting a paper at the Command Agriculture All Stakeholders Conference in Harare yesterday.

"If this mandatory fortification program is enforced as from July 1 2017 as being threatened, we will see many millers unable to continue production especially our small-scale black indigenous grain millers.

The economic challenges of the past 10 years have seen the country's operating black maize millers dwindling to 23 in May 2017 from 128 in 2009; the country's operating wheat black millers have fallen to one in May 2017 from five in 2009. Mandatory fortification cannot and must not be allowed to come and finish them off," said Mr Musarara.

Two weeks ago, GMAZ wrote to the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr David Parirenyatwa, saying the timing of the commencement of the mandatory programme must be postponed until such a time where all requisite variables are in place.

GMAZ, the representative body for millers said its decision came after the association conducted nationwide consultations with grain millers on the mandatory fortification programme.

Mr Musarara said the prevalent Nostro position and liquidity challenges are severely affecting the timeous remittances of imported wheat and maize.

"Consequently, we have been unable to meet import payments for the acquisition of fortification equipment and the fortificants. Government and the development partners have not done massive and extensive consumer awareness campaign to sensitise the public about the additives," said Mr Musarara.

According to the World Health Organisation, food fortification is the process of adding minute levels of vitamins and minerals to foods during processing.

The process entails addition of one or more micro-nutrients during processing regardless of whether the micro-nutrient is present or not in the said food to increase micro-nutrient intake in a population.

It is one of many ways to prevent and control micro-nutrient deficiency diseases like goitre, anaemia, impaired vision and mental retardation. The food vehicles targeted for fortification are sugar, cooking oil, maize meal, and wheat flour.

"Proceeding with this programme on July 1 as you had earlier planned with the status quo will result in serious shortages of maize meal, bread and household baking flour," said Mr Musarara.

The Zimbabwe National Food Fortification Strategy 2014--2018, which was launched two years ago, is aligned to the National Food and Nutrition Strategy for Zimbabwe and serves as a guide at both policy and implementation levels to prevent micro-nutrient deficiencies.

The strategy was developed to address the micro-nutrient deficiency burden in the country as revealed by the 2012 Zimbabwe Micro-nutrient Survey.

According to the survey, 19 percent of children 6-59 months are vitamin A deficient, while 72 percent have iron deficiency, and 31 percent are anaemic, and nearly 1,5 million working age adults with anaemia suffer deficits in work performance.

June 8, 2017: The Herald