A new study by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology indicates that nearly half of the maize millers in Kenya do not add essential minerals and vitamins to their flour products. The process, technically known as flour fortification or enrichment, is a legal requirement in Kenya. The country has prioritized fortification of salt, maize and wheat flour, as well as fats and oils.
According to the study findings, while all large scale millers were found to be fortifying, only 46% of medium scale millers fortify their products. The situation was worse among small scale millers where just 24% reported adding the mandatory micronutrients to the flours.
It is estimated that up to 70% of packaged maize flour consumed in most urban areas of Kenya is produced by large scale millers. The situation is directly the opposite in rural areas and urban slams where most of the flour is either unpackaged or sourced from small and medium scale millers. This means majority of Kenyans are still consuming flour without the essential micronutrients, exposing them to micronutrient deficiencies or ‘hidden hunger’
Speaking when he released the results of the study in Nairobi on Thursday April 25, 2019, lead author, Prof. Daniel Sila said the milling industry was still faced with a number of challenges regarding flour fortification.
Prof. Sila identified skills gap, lack of equipment and high cost of premixes, as some of the hurdles among small and medium scale millers to fortification compliance.
Vice Chairman of the United Grain Millers Association, Kennedy Nyagah called for government intervention to enable millers in the country comply with the regulations.
“Some of our members spend one hundred thousand shillings monthly to buy premix alone. Then there are costs associated with sample analysis,” decried Nyagah.
On her part, Lydia Mirugi, a miller from Embu County noted that there are simply too many regulations and agencies involved in the milling industry.
“In most cases, the regulations are not brought to the attention of the investor at the point of registering the business,” she said.
Kenya’s Food Fortification Programme Manager at the Ministry of Health, John Mwai, however maintained that anybody who enters into the milling industry must be prepared to comply with all set down regulations.
Failure to fortify flour, Mwai noted, denies the consumer a nutritious food and carries serious health implications for the population and therefore he encouraged millers to take it up as part of their responsibility.
He, nevertheless said that the government was working with a number of partners to ensure small and medium scale millers are facilitated to comply.
As a way of lessening the compliance burden, Prof. Sila said that JKUAT now offers free sample analysis for both maize and wheat flour to local millers.
The move, the don revealed, was a result of the establishment of the Kenya National Food Fortification Reference Laboratory, which is now operational at JKUAT.
The laboratory whose construction was supported by the European Union under the auspices of the “Strengthening the Kenya National Food Fortification Program,” is part of several initiatives aimed at an easing fortification pain for small and medium scale millers.
“Millers can now get timely and quality results on their samples with no cost. We have also developed training manuals to help millers achieve competency on key aspects of fortification,” Prof. Sila said.
The stakeholders spoke during a training on flour fortification to millers drawn from Nairobi and Central regions in Nairobi. The training was part of the activities of the EU funded Program.