FAO in Gambia

International experts share their knowledge to monitor the impact of fortified food in the population of The Gambia

Group photo of FORTIMAS Training Workshop participants ©FAO/Freya Morales

Banjul - “The doctors of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition” - Thomas Edison.

The quote by the inventor of the lightbulb, Thomas Edison, aligns with the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) strong commitment to eradicate all forms of malnutrition in The Gambia, among others, by advocating and promoting healthy and nutritious diets.

FAO works and strives on a daily basis to improve Gambians’ livelihoods, health and nutrition status, especially focussing on the most vulnerable members of society, while supporting the Gambian Government in achieving one of its key priorities: improving the nutrition level in the country.

Today another milestone is reached in improving the population’s health, with the opening of the first “Food Fortification Monitoring and Surveillance Approach –FORTIMAS- workshop” in The Gambia. The workshop that will run from the 25 till the 28 of November 2019 at the Senegambia Hotel is creating a space for international nutrition experts to meet with stakeholders, partners, government specialists and donors in The Gambia related to the nutrition and fortified food sector. The aim of the 4-days workshop, is to ensure that a reliable and effective monitoring and surveillance system, such as FORTIMAS, is implemented by the pertinent authorities to track the population coverage and impact of the fortification programme and micronutrient status indicators in easy-to-reach target population. Said in a simple way, the participants will learn the tools and methods to assess if the population is benefiting from the consumption of fortified food.

The workshop is organized by FAO through the European Union funded Food Fortification project “Improving Food Security and Nutrition in the Gambia through Food fortification”. The project aims to improve the food and nutrition security of vulnerable women and children in The Gambia, by ensuring access to and consumption of micronutrient rich foods, industrially fortified as well as bio-fortified crops.

“FAO will continue to strengthen the monitoring and surveillance system of the government regulatory bodies as well as The Gambia’s efforts to combat food insecurity and malnutrition by providing pragmatic, concrete and sustainable solutions”, said Solange Heise, FAO Nutrition and food systems coordination officer in her opening remarks, before thanking the Government of The Gambia, with its government partners and United Purpose for the collaboration, as well as recognizing the EU for entrusting its resources to FAO to enhance the nutritional status of target populations..

What is the FORTIMAS methodology?

FORTIMAS (Fortification Monitoring and Surveillance) is a tool developed by Smarter Futures and other partners to help countries feasibly track the trends (changes) in the effective coverage and nutritional impact of fortified food programmes over time in populations that regularly consume fortified foods.

Two facilitators hired by FAO will conduct the FORTIMAS workshop.  Phillip Makhumula, Food Fortification expert will cover the quality of fortified foods in terms of compliance and volume and Ibrahim Parvanta, co-author of the FORTIMAS Methodology for Smarter Futures will cover the population level monitoring and surveillance.  Ibrahim Parvanta, started his presentation by explaining that FORTIMAS, on one hand, helps monitor the quality of the fortified products. This is where the industry comes in: the importers and the domestic producers will have to ensure that the quality of the products that they are fortifying meet the national standards. On the other hand, the method can show how food fortification has an important impact when it comes to reducing anaemia and iron deficiency, among other micronutrient deficiencies. He added that there are two questions we can ask ourselves when doing an assessment/survey of the population:

  • How prevalent is micronutrient deficiency in the target population, in the geographic area, at a point in time? For example, what is the prevalence of anaemia, iron or vitamin A deficiency in the Gambia in 2019?
  • Is the micronutrient status of the target population in the geographic area changing or improving over time? Is it getting worse or better?
  • How is the quality of the fortified products and their coverage?

The FORTIMAS methodology centres on the later. An interesting fact is that the methodology was originally created for monitoring the impact of fortified flour, but it can be used for any other micronutrient fortification programme, as well other population and health programmes, reiterated food fortification international expert, Ibrahim Parvanta.

 Why use the FORTIMAS methodology?

To track the trends in population coverage of adequately fortified food, and related micronutrient status of the population that regularly consumes sufficient amounts of that food over time.

This means that by implementing this method FAO and its government partners will be able to monitor and assess the food fortification programmes implemented in the country to see if they are performing as expected or whether modifications are needed. Furthermore, Ibrahim Parvanta highlighted that this type of data collection can be done at a much lower cost than a survey.

Some of the main nutrition and malnutrition issues affecting the health of the Gambians that the FAO Food Fortification project aims to tackle are anaemia, iron and vitamin A deficiency. With its overall objective to improve food security, nutrition and health, the project is expected to reduce malnutrition, eliminate micronutrient deficiencies among children 6-59 months and pregnant and lactating women in food insecure households. In 2018, the prevalence of stunting has drastically reduced from 24.5 % (DHS2013) to 19% (MICS2018). The same positive decline has been registered in relation to underweight that is at 14% (MICS2018), and wasting that has gone down from 11.5 percent (DHS Gambia 2013) to 5.8 percent in 2018  (MICS2018).

The participants attending the workshop are mainly technical personnel, as well as monitoring and evaluation staff, among others from the National Nutrition Agency (NaNA); Ministry of Health; the Food Safety and Quality Authority (FSQA); Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional integration and Employment (MOTIE); Civil Society (GAFNA); NGO ( United Purpose) and private sector.