Assessing fortified edible oils in Bangladesh’s marketplaces

GAIN’s Catia Pedro, Syed Muntasir Ridwan and Nafis Tahshish Islam recently took part in a review of fortified edible oils and their quality in Bangladesh as part of a program to reduce vitamin A deficiency. They explain how.

Vitamin A deficiency is a major cause of preventable blindness in children in Bangladesh, according to UNICEF. It also impairs growth and weakens the immune system, increasing the risk of death by infectious diseases. The Micronutrient Survey of 2011-2012 found that 36 percent of children of pre-school age were vitamin A deficient.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) has been supporting the Ministry of Industry (MoI) and national refineries in Bangladesh to implement a vitamin A fortification program for refined edible palm, soybean, and rice bran oil. The project aims to reduce vitamin A deficiency in Bangladesh by increasing the vitamin A intake through fortified edible oil.

Data from the MoI shows that the majority of large and small refineries started fortifying edible oil with vitamin A. To monitor the performance of the national edible oil fortification project, GAIN is conducting a market assessment in partnership with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) and the MoI. The objectives of the assessment are twofold: to understand the supply chain by determining the availability of oil brands that refineries and re-packers provide across the country; and to assess how fortified edible oil complies with national fortification standards in order to identify issues in the fortification process at the production site or along the supply chain.

In March, we provided support to icddr,b, to conduct a training of the survey teams. The aim of the training was to explain the objectives, methodology and tools of the assessment. It also included a pilot market assessment in Dhaka, during which the teams tested the data collection tools and became familiar with the oil sample collection process.

On the first day, we visited the biggest market in Dhaka South City Corporation, called New Market, where we collected data from three types of retailers: shops, wholesalers and supermarkets. The retail outlet owners were very cooperative and interest in our project and so did the people that were passing by, who were curious to see us writing down the brand names on notepads in the small retail outlets – a group of men even asked us if we were selling a new chocolate brand!

On the second day, we visited the marketplace of a village located in Gazipur district and three marketplaces in Kaliganj municipality. We had the opportunity to see an oil supplier bring oil barrels to a retail outlet. The oil barrels usually contain about 220-240 litres of edible oil and people can purchase the exact amount of oil they need. The barrels were not labelled, as is  often the case in Dhaka. This represented a potential challenge, because we couldn’t determine the origin of the oil and we thought we could only assess the type of edible oil contained in the barrels. However, we were surprised to find out that some of the retail outlet owners knew the oil producers and could recognize the different barrels, despite being unlabelled. Thanks to their help, we were able to trace the oil and assess it quality. .

As expected, there were not as many edible oil brands available in rural areas as in the urban marketplace. Some oil samples were also purchased to allow the teams to practice how to label the oil samples. The samples were then brought to the laboratory for analysis of their vitamin A content.

A few days later, icddr,b’s teams started conducting the assessment in all the divisions of the country by collecting data on the brands available in two different regions and retail outlet types of the country, and the oil samples of all the brands. The data collection process was not without its challenges. Gaining the trust of shop owners in marketplaces requires patience and the collaboration of all the project stakeholders, including a letter from the Ministry of Industries confirming the details of the assessment and the diligence of icdd,b field workers in explaining the goals.

Following the completion of data collection in early April, icddr,b’s laboratory will analyse oil samples from all brands for vitamin A content. The findings will show which producers are fortifying their brands and if they are adding adequate amounts of vitamin A. The results will also help to identify issues that need to be addressed to ensure a successful implementation of the edible oil fortification project in Bangladesh.

Catia Pedro works on Monitoring, Learning and Research based in Geneva and Syed Muntasir Ridwan and Nafis Tahshish Isla work in GAIN’s Large Scale Food Fortification team in Bangladesh.


Published 10 April 2017

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