How investing in flour fortification can help end hidden hunger in Tajikistan

On 10-11 March 2016, GAIN and USAID hosted a workshop for policymakers, flour industries, and other key players in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to showcase the high returns on investing in wheat flour fortification.

Fortifying wheat flour with iron and folic acid is a proven intervention to tackle micronutrient malnutrition, which represent a significant challenge in Tajikistan. It is estimated that 24 percent of women of reproductive age and 29 percent of children under five suffer from anemia due to iron deficiency. High levels of anemia negatively impact economic productivity in adults and reduce learning potential in children.

Folate deficiency in women is also a problem in the country, as they are more likely to give birth to children with spina bifida, the most common neural birth defect, often resulting in paralysis and high healthcare costs for families.

The purpose of the workshop was to determine if flour fortification is a cost effective measure to address iron and folic acid deficiencies in Tajikistan. Workshop participants had the opportunity to complete a Cost Benefit Analysis to calculate the economic “cost of doing nothing” to address micronutrient deficiencies in the country vs. the cost of investing in wheat flour fortification.

Bread, made with wheat flour, is the main staple food in the country. Fortifying wheat flour with iron and folic acid can improve the intakes of these essential micronutrients to help prevent iron-deficiency anemia, as well as prevent most folate-related birth defects.

The model calculated that the economic cost of doing nothing to address micronutrient deficiencies over ten years would be USD 889 million US dollars, which is far greater than the cost of investing in wheat flour fortification over the same period, estimated to USD 32 million. In particular, flour fortification can help reduce healthcare costs and improve economic productivity by a healthier population.

“Flour fortification with essential vitamins and minerals must be undertaken in Tajikistan, and soon. There will be at least a nine-dollar return for every dollar invested increasing overall productivity among the workforce, prevent debilitating birth defects and improving childhood development throughout the country. GAIN is excited to be working with the government and industry to accelerate action to roll out this evidence-based intervention” said Greg Garrett, Director of Food Fortification at GAIN.

Learn more about GAIN’s food fortification programs worldwide here.

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