Fortifying food in the field to boost nutrition: case studies from Afghanistan, Angola, and Zambia

Food Nutr Bull. 2007 Sep;28(3):353-64. doi: 10.1177/156482650702800312.


Deficiencies in micronutrients such as iron, vitamin A, and iodine affect billions of people worldwide, causing death, disease, and disability. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has long been recognised for its ability to deliver food to some of the most remote locations, under the toughest conditions: refugees in border camps, populations cut off by conflict, extremely poor and marginalised people like ethnic minorities, orphans, and widows. Relatively little, however, is known about its efforts to ensure that the food it delivers not only provides enough calories for immediate survival but also provides the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy growth and development. Much of the food delivered by WFP is fortified with iron, vitamin A, and other micronutrients before being shipped. But there are several reasons to mill and fortify food as close to the beneficiaries as possible. For instance, milling and fortifying food locally helps to overcome the problems of the short shelf-life of whole fortified maizemeal. It also enhances the nutritional value of locally procured cereals. And it can foster demand for fortified foods among local consumers beyond WFP beneficiaries, thus nurturing an industry with potentially significant benefits for the health of entire communities. This paper outlines three approaches by WFP to fortifying cereals in Afghanistan, Angola, and Zambia. It examines the challenges faced and the outcomes achieved in an effort to share this knowledge with others dedicated to improving the nutritional status of poor and food-insecure people. In Afghanistan, attempts to mill and fortify wheat flour using small-scale chakki mills were successful but much larger-scale efforts would be needed to promote demand and reach the level of consumption required to address serious iron deficiencies across the country. In Angola, maize has been fortified to combat the persistent occurrence of pellagra, a micronutrient deficiency disease found among people whose diets are dominated by maize. By providing fortification equipment to a commercial mill at the port of Lobito and using a vitamin and mineral pre-mix provided by UNICEF, this project has overcome many of the difficulties common in countries emerging from conflict to provide monthly fortified maize rations to some 115,000 beneficiaries. In Zambia, iron deficiency anaemia was a serious problem among camp-restricted refugees. WFP and its partners imported, installed, and trained workers in the use of two containerized milling and fortification units (MFUs), halved iron-deficiency anaemia, and reduced vitamin A deficiency among camp residents. In addition, WFP dramatically reduced waiting times for refugees who used to have their whole grain maize rations milled at small local facilities with insufficient milling capacity. The context and scale of each of the three case-studies described in this paper was different, but the lessons learned are comparable. All projects were succesful in their own right, but also required a considerable amount of staff time and supervision as well as external technical expertise, limiting the potential for scaling up within the WFP operational context. In order to expand and sustain the provision of fortified cereal flour to WFP beneficiaries and beyond, getting the private milling sector as well as governments on board would be crucial. Where this is not possible, such as in very isolated, difficult to reach locations, strong, specialized partners are a prerequisite, but these are few in number. Alternatively, in such contexts or in situations where the need is urgent and cannot be met through local flour fortification in the short term, or through local purchases of fresh foods, other approaches to improve the diet, such as the use of multimicronutrient formulations, packed for individual or household use, may be more appropriate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Afghanistan
  • Angola
  • Biological Availability
  • Energy Intake
  • Food Handling / methods*
  • Food Preservation / methods*
  • Food, Fortified*
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition / prevention & control*
  • Micronutrients / administration & dosage*
  • Micronutrients / deficiency*
  • Minerals / administration & dosage
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Nutritional Status
  • Nutritive Value
  • Program Evaluation
  • Public Health
  • United Nations
  • Vitamins / administration & dosage
  • Zambia


  • Micronutrients
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins