Delivering High-Quality, Locally Produced and Fortified Blended Food Products in West Africa

By Sofia Condes, GAIN’s Associate, Food Policy and Financing & Jennifer Dahdah, GAIN’s Finance Consultant, Food Policy and Financing

One of the obstacles to ensuring access to affordable, fortified blended food products (FBFs) in Africa is the lack of companies with the capabilities, technology and know-how (including quality control mechanisms and tests) for production. Therapeutic and supplementary food products such as Plumpy’Nut and super cereals largely depend on imports. To overcome this constraint, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the World Food Programme (WFP) started a multi-million dollar project in 2015 called ALTAAQ (Achats Locaux, Transformation Alimentaire et Amélioration de la Qualité). This project recognises the strong links between agriculture, food production companies and nutrition. The project works with farmers, food companies and food-testing facilities to develop locally produced FBFs targeted mainly at infants and children aged 6-59 months (super cereal type of porridge); older children above five years of age (peanut butter paste); and pregnant women. The project’s focus is on three francophone countries in West Africa: Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso. In each, a collaboration with relevant government sectors, including the Ministries of Commerce, Agriculture and Health, is undertaken.

The FBFs include a lipid-based spreadable paste as well as fortified flours and cereals that can be eaten both in stable situations and where there are emergencies. Fortification is done with micronutrients adapted to the nutritional deficiencies directly affecting the local population. The products will be sold commercially on the local market and may also be purchased and distributed by WFP and other partners as part of their humanitarian work.

The project is supporting factory improvements, capacity-building and machinery as well as technical assistance. Because the companies will be able to use local ingredients, the cost of producing the products will allow the companies to sell them at a lower price and will potentially be sustainable. Though the market cost of the products is not yet decided, work is underway to set prices below the current market cost for similar products. (It should also be pointed out that the products developed under the project will not be targeted to infants under six months of age and are not expected to act as replacements of other local, complementary foods but as a supplement to them.)

The four-year project is scheduled to end in late 2019. A unique feature is that it is focused on three integrated parts of the value chain: farmers who are growing the ingredients; the local food companies processing them into finished products; and the laboratories who ensure that they meet nutritional needs and stringent quality standards.

Processing peanuts to make fortified peanut-based pastes

Working with farmers to improve the quality of raw materials

The ‘farm-to-fork’ supply chain starts in the field. The project has provided farmers with equipment (such as machines for drying and storing the grains and cereals) as well as trainings to promote knowledge transfer. (For example, provision of a ‘train-the-trainers’ session in Senegal enabled local farmers to be coached by local trainers who are familiar with their context and practices.) Trainers were also able to meet the quality managers and food technologists in the factories to understand the needs and standards for high-quality raw material.

Supporting companies to produce the products

First, it was essential to select products made from local ingredients that were regularly consumed. Flours (for porridges) and food pastes (like peanut butter) were identified as the best vehicles as these are already well known to the local population. The sugar content in the peanut based pastes has been reduced by 40 per cent compared to the non-fortified traditional peanut butter spreads consumed in these countries to support efforts towards a healthier diet.

Three businesses were chosen to help develop the products, one in each country. These are medium-sized companies that already produced food products in which the nutrient content could be boosted to help to meet the needs of women and children.

Next, the product formula was adapted to the local ingredients and eating habits. Most progress has been made to date in Burkina Faso, where GAIN has collaborated with a team of experts from a French international NGO to reformulate the fortified blended flour in order to comply with both the national standards and the specifications of the product distributed in emergencies.

The project has conducted a detailed evaluation of the needs of each company to assess gaps in production. For example, a mini-lab has been installed so that routine analyses can be conducted on the raw materials and finished products. Furthermore, the regular quality management is assured and staff have been trained on hygiene practices.

Finally, recipes are being developed and equipment needs in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali are being assessed, together with acceptability studies which will play an essential role in matching the products’ presentation and taste to consumer preferences. An affordability study will be done through the development of a comprehensive business plan to ensure that products are priced appropriately.

Lessons learned

There have been some challenges to get the project started and to deliver on some of the goals. It took longer than expected to find the right factories and laboratories that were willing to work with the project to upgrade the quality of production and analyses. From this, the team learned that it was important to partner with actors that already had high-quality production processes and saw the value in expanding their services. Another challenge involved the work with farmers and convincing them to change some of their practices. Working with local ‘trainers of trainers’ who are familiar with farming practices and are trusted by farmers when proposing new ways of working has helped overcome this barrier. Overall, the project has found very capable partners in each country and the team is confident that the launch of the products will lead to sustained consumption of more nutritious foods.

This article was originally published by ENN Nutrition Exchange

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Published 19 July 2018