Rwanda is looking at food fortification to boost exports in foodstuffs and help to increase foreign exchange receipts.
The new move would also minimise the costs of importing processed foods.
Food fortification is a commonly used public health policy of adding micronutrients (essential trace elements and vitamins) to foodstuffs to ensure a healthier population.
Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe, the Rwanda Bureau of Standards director general, is optimistic that food fortification will help increase quality of foods that would enable them to have a higher competitive advantage both in the region and on international markets.
“We cannot compete on volumes on the market, but we are always looking at taking quality products to the market and this is why we always ensure quality and standards of our products,” he said in an interview with East African Business Week.
Bagabe said by adding micro-nutrients such as vitamins and iron to locally processed foods will give them an advantage to compete with imported foods on the local market, but also increase food exports.
“When foods are fortified it means that nutritional value of foods are improved and people can have essential micro-nutrients to reduce on micro-nutrients deficiency which is still a challenge,” he said.
Rwanda spent over $86 million on importing consumer goods amounting to 95.5000 tons in January and Febraury 2013, compared to $72 million in the same period under review.
“This not only helps Rwanda reduce on the cost of importing fortified foods, but also enables Rwandans access cheap and quality food,” Bagabe said.
Experts are optimistic that fortification will give the advantages of reducing micro-nutrients deficiencies, such as iodine deficiency by 20% , lower productivity losses by 30 % and child mortality rate by 30% among other things.
“It’s actually pretty powerful on what it (food fortification) can do particularly for the Millennium Developmental Goals number four, which is to reduce infant mortality rate and five, reducing maternal mortality rate ,” Laura Rowe , Chief operating Officer Project Healthy Children said.
According to sources, Rwanda is lagging behind its neighbours in the region to pass legislation that enables food fortification and setting quality standards for producers to follow. This has made the country’s foodstuffs less competitive.
“Once Rwanda adopts mandatory food fortification it is going to be a huge benefit in terms of trade in the region because other countries have mandatory food fortification,” she said
Rwanda Bureau of Standards together with Ministry of Health, with technical assistance from Project Healthy Children, has so far drafted food fortification standards. Soon food fortification will be mandatory in the country as one way of levelling the playing field for all industries and have an nutritional impact on the population.
“Now we are assisting industries to scale up so that they can include fortification.
So we are going to their facilities and recommending any changes that they might need and equipment and where they can buy them at a cheaper price,” Rowe said.
Nevertheless, Rowe says that during standards creation process, Rwanda needs to ensure that its food fortification standards are harmonised with regional standards to avoid trade barriers.
“We need to make sure that standards are relevant for the needs of Rwanda, but while at the same time harmonised with regional standards,” she said.
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