By Awa B. Bah
The Gambia Government through the office of the Vice President and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, in close partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, has launched a 4.4 million Euro project entitled, “Improving Food Security and Nutrition in the Gambia, Through Food Fortification. The event was held on Tuesday 26th September 2017, at a local hotel in Senegambia.
The multi million Euro project is funded by the European Union and aims to improve nutrition and health outcomes of vulnerable women and children in the Gambia, especially women, girls and children in the North Bank and Central River regions of the country.
The project will be jointly implemented by FAO in close partnership with NANA and key stakeholders, through the Sustainable Integrated Food Fortification Initiative. The project will integrate nutrition education as a key strategy to strengthen nutrition outcomes and will strengthen public and private sector capacities, improve public-private partnership and advance the reinforcement of regulatory systems on food fortification.
The intervention will also ensure that at least 65% of the Gambia’s population has increased awareness and access to fortified stable food high in essential micronutrients such as vitamin A, Iron, zinc, folic acid and other vitamins and nutrients.
Launching the project, the Vice ´President, Mrs. Fatoumata Jallow-Tambang said the Government of the Gambia is committed and will continue to ensure food and nutrition security for the Gambian population; that being aware of the fact that food security dose not directly translate into improve nutritional status, government is making efforts to invest in all areas including water, sanitation, education, health and economic empowerment as well as providing appropriate labor saving devices to reduce the drudgery and workload of women and to build the resilience of the households.
Cognizant of the fact that nutrition is not a single sectoral issue but a crosscutting one, Mrs. Jallow Tambajang said this has led the government of the Gambia to recognize nutrition as an important pillar of national development.
To facilitate micronutrient deficiency control intervention, the Vice President noted that a food fortification and salt Iodization regulation 2006, was enacted providing guidelines for food fortification. She called for the need for this to be reviewed and updated by taking into consideration, current realities.
She expressed gratitude and appreciation to the European Union for generously funding the project and the FAO and other partners for their efforts to make the implementation a reality. This project she said will greatly help government’s drive to eliminate micronutrient malnutrition in the country. She assured the continued commitment of the government of the Gambia in attaining optimal health and nutrition of the Gambian populace.
Dr. Perpetua Katepa Kalala, FAO country representative said improving nutrition is a key priority for the Gambia. She said the prevalence rate of acute malnutrition and stunting remains high. According to her, FAO micronutrient deficiencies afflict more than two billion individuals or one in three people globally. This she said occurs when intake and absorption of vitamins and minerals are too low to sustain good health and development. Malnutrient deficiencies she said, have profoundly negative implications for child and maternal health.
Opportunities she revealed, exist for low cost food fortification in the Gambia as seen in other countries. She said large scale intervention through the fortification of the frequently consumed food staples, bio fortified crops and supplementation of micronutrients to prevent the devastating consequences of micronutrients deficiencies, calls for the reduction of the number of morbidity and mortality attributed to them.
Over the years, she said agricultural research for developing countries has increased production and availability of calorically dense staple crops, but that production of micronutrients-rich non-staples such as vegetables, pulses and animal products has not increased in equal measure.
Non-staple food prices she said, have increased steadily and sustainability is making it more and more difficult for the poor to afford dietary quality. In the long term she said, increasing the production of micronutrients-rich foods and improvising dietary diversity, will substantially reduce micronutrient deficiencies. She said in the near term, consuming fortified foods and bio fortified crops can help address micronutrient deficiencies by increasing the daily adequacy of micronutrient intakes among individuals throughout the cycle. She assured that FAO will continue to support the Gambia’s efforts to combat food insecurity and malnutrition by providing pragmatic, concrete and sustainable solutions.
Darell Sextone, European Union representative said the project is in line with the EU’ efforts to ensure that intake of food is rich in micronutrients. He said the project aims to contribute to a reduction of stunting through supporting household incomes, agricultural production, food diversification, treating acute malnutrition and promotion of optimal care practices particularly in those areas that are worst affected. He said the EU is a major global financial actor in terms of food and nutrition security; that SDG 2.2 specifies that by 2030, all forms of malnutrition will be conquered. He assured that the EU will work to ensure that access to all for affordable, safe, sufficient and nutritious food, will be achieved by the end of the forty-eight months project.
Food security he noted, exists when people at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Modou Cheyassin Phall Executive Director National Nutrition Agency (NANA) moderated the launching ceremony