Rwanda starts food fortification to boost exports

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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