The impact of food fortification in rural areas amid bumper harvest expectations

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By Mazwi Mhletshwa

THE country’s 2020/2021 farming season was characterised by above normal rainfalls experienced countrywide.

As climate change and agriculture are interrelated processes, the country is this year expecting a bumper farming harvest of crops. Notwithstanding the efforts to improve the adoption of food fortification, in Zimbabwe especially in rural areas, they continue to be generally low with malnutrition inevitable.

In June 2017, the Government of Zimbabwe made it mandatory for major local food manufacturers to fortify processed staple foods with micronutrients.

The food vehicles targeted for fortification included sugar (vitamin A), cooking oil (vitamin A and D), maize meal and wheat flour (A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, folic acid, iron and zinc).

In addition to mandatory fortification, the Government of Zimbabwe is promoting three biofortified food crops which are, biofortified orange maize (Vitamin A), Nua 45 beans (Zinc and Iron), and protein maize.

Considering the expected bumper harvest, a challenge may be presented in the fortification process of the country’s foods as most communal farmers have said the state of the economy is causing reluctance in selling their yield to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).
Last year, the Second Round Crop and Livestock Assessment report by the Ministry of Agriculture reported that communal farmers have accounted for approximately 66% of Zimbabwe’s maize production for the past 20 years, as most large-scale farmers have resorted to cash crops.

The grain marketing season opened on 1 April at nearly 1 400 buying points that has been set up countrywide, while an additional 400 are being established as the season progresses.

All 84 GMB depots have begun operating daily, including on weekends, to facilitate uninterrupted grain deliveries, with supplies expected to start picking up next month.

The grain utility is paying ZWL $32 000 for a tonne of maize, ZWL$48 000 for a tonne of soya bean and ZWL$38 000 for traditional grains, according to a new producer price schedule published last week.

Government has set aside ZWL$60 billion to ensure timely payment of farmers, with the GMB undertaking to effect payments to farmers within 72 hours of delivery.

Farmers who deliver their grain to mobile collection points will be paid within five days.

Zimbabwe expects to produce between 2,5 and 2,8 million tonnes of maize and 360 000 tonnes of traditional grains, in what is being touted as the largest yield achieved by the country since the Land Reform Programme commenced in 2000.

By last year, grain intake 2020/21 producer price from 1 April 2020 were pegged at; maize-ZWL$ 12 329.72 per tonne, traditional grains (sorghum, millet and rapoko) ZWL$12 865.79 per tonne and soya beans ZWL$17 211.74 per tonne.

Villagers in Mlambapele village in Gwanda District, Matabeleland South province have however expressed dismay on the low buying costs of their crops and delay of payments.

To them, the food fortification process is news as they has been no availing of such information which is causing hidden hunger to some communities.

Ward 19 councillor Tompson Makhalima who is the area councillor said villagers are in the dark with regards to the process of food fortification.

“This a word I have come across and I have a heard a few talk about the whole process. The challenge in this area is that there are no awareness campaigns being made to ensure villagers know about this issue.

“The poor telephone network has further affected the whole process together with banning of gatherings, as rural people we have not tapped into the growth of technology,” said Clr Makhalima.

He further added that he would table a motion on the next rural district full council meeting as he would want villagers to benefit immensely from the programme.

A villager identified as Mrs Retumedzi Nare said they cannot risk selling their bumper harvest to GMB for a low value in the name of fulfilling the food fortification process.

“As a villager I must travel to Gwanda to sell my maize, I also pay transport costs and waiting to receive producer money after some days is a real setback for some of us as we do not stay in town.

“As for the food fortification process we do not know anything about it but we try by all means to ensure that we eat a balanced diet as families,” said Mrs Nare.

Health and Wellness Consultant Dr Tinaye Muzamhindo noted that malnutrition is expected to be on the rise considering the consumption of non-fortified foods.

He said generally, people need to be educated on the impact of fortified foods and non-fortified foods.

“Malnutrition may occur when consuming non-fortified food. Both those who consume fortified foods and those who consume non fortified foods need health and wellness awareness, education, and promotion for nutrition.

“Those who have maize harvest in excess should batter trade for other nutritious foods like beans vice versa. People should also avoid eating too much salt and too much cooking oil,” said Dr Muzamhindo.

Dr Muzamhindo added, “Ground nuts and peanuts are good sources of proteins. Bush vegetables are great source of vegetables and minerals while small grains are way better than maize.”

Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Deputy Minister Cde Vangelis Peter Haritatos said there are in the process of rolling out a programme specifically to increase awareness on the food fortification process.

“Plans are almost at an advanced stage where experts are working on a viable programme that will be easily understood by the masses on the food fortification process.

“If all goes well, such trainings will be intensified also during the period of preparing for Pfumvudza,” said Deputy Minister Haritatos.

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