Getting enough vitamin A in Kenya

There’s an interesting juxtaposition of material in today’s Nation. Unfortunately, none of it is online so you’ll just have to take my word for it, unless you live in Kenya that is. On the one hand there’s an advertising feature announcing the launch of fortified fats and oils. The four-page spread says that “a team representing government, the standards setting body, testing agencies and the private sector brought Vitamin A-fortified oil to the supermarket shelves in only 130 days.” It includes statements by the Ministers of Health and of Trade & Industry, the Director of Medical Services, the Director of the Bureau of Standards, the Director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the Africa Regional Director of the Micronutrient Initiative. The mid-term review of the effort is on the Micronutrient Initiative website here.

Interestingly, the Ministry of Agriculture seems not to have been involved, but in a different part of the paper there’s an article about the widespread and rapid adoption of new, vitamin A-rich sweet potato varieties by communities in western Kenya as part of a project funded by Farm-Africa under the Community Mobilisation Against Desertification (CMAD) programme, in which that ministry did take part. A women’s group in Homa Bay has set up a bakery that uses sweet potato flower mixed with wheat to make bread, cakes and other products for local schools and hospitals.

So, two contrasting ways of trying to achieve the same thing: and end to hidden hunger. I wonder which approach will end up proving better value for money? Do we need both?

3 Replies to “Getting enough vitamin A in Kenya”

  1. Interesting. And good questions. Answering them though is super complex. The biofortifiers argue that once you develop the sweet potato varieties that are high in Vitamin A, you can duplicate the seeds at little cost. Fortification requires a continuing cost per unit of food fortified. But will Kenyans adopt these sweet potato varieties? Is the color right? How much of the sweet potato area is already in improved varieties? [Cassava is about 20% improved varieties in Kenya]. Often the farmers using improved varieties have a higher socioeconomic status, and less need for the vitamin. Fortification has its problems too. Many countries do not have the capacity to verify if the producers are fortifying to the established standard. Central America has similar issues with with Vitamin A fortified sugar. Now that biofortification is being pursued by the CGIAR and many others, these questions should be investigated.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Glenn, and how the hell are you anyway? Long time… Your questions on adoption of the new sweet potato varieties are good too. The article I referred to is not online (or rather, it is, but you need to pay something ridiculous to get access to it) but I’ll see if I can scan and send it to you, depends on whether I threw away yesterday’s paper. But it did suggest that adoption was pretty rapid in the albeit restricted area of the project. You’re right to suggest the colour (and, associated to that, texture) might not be attractive to Kenyans, but it looks like these varieties are mainly being used for processing rather than eaten boiled for breakfast as is the norm here. And the baked goods including the sweet potato flour were mainly going to schools and hospitals, so the target groups would seem to be right. On the other hand, with regard to monitoring standards for fortification, this does seem to have been addressed in Kenya, with the Bureau of standards involved in the project.

  3. Fine, Luigi…..also note that the more processing, the more Vitamin A that you are a likely to lose. I have always thought that the best way for biofortificaton to work is if farmers grow the variety and they eat it on farm…..the further away from the farm and the more processed, the more Vitamin A lost….

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