Reducing malnutrition by working with local millers

Millers during a monitoring mission under the fortification programme. Copyright: WFP/Gulabuddin Rashid

About one third of the population in Afghanistan is food insecure and micronutrient deficiencies are widespread. In its efforts to increase people’s access to nutritious food and fortified flour, P4P is supporting local wheat millers across the country. Through several market development initiatives, the Afghan wheat millers serve as key players in the search for sustainable long-term hunger solutions. 

WFP’s involvement with the Afghan milling sector dates back to 2005 when WFP first purchased flour from two millers as part of the food assistance provided to tuberculosis patients. Since then, the collaboration has expanded significantly and today, through P4P, it includes extensive support in advocacy to the local milling industry.

Started local fortification to reduce malnutrition

Food fortification, meaning the addition of essential vitamins and minerals to staple foods at the point of processing, has been instrumental in dramatically reducing micronutrient deficiencies around the world. In 2006, WFP helped millers to start fortifying their production with iron and folic acid. This initiative was part of WFP’s efforts to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, considered a serious public health problem in Afghanistan. According to UNICEF, over a third of children under five years of age and a fifth of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia, which is a condition caused by deficiency of red blood cells or of haemoglobin in the blood.

In Afghanistan where well over half of all calories are consumed in the form of wheat flour, the addition of iron and folic acid is a highly effective intervention for addressing the problem. It is also considered very cost-effective as less than US$3 will provide micronutrients for a family for a year.

Expanding programme together with partners

WFP is also working with the Ministry of Public Health to support fortification by large-scale flour millers. At the onset of P4P in 2010, the program was supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). In 2012, WFP received additional funding from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), to also include social and public campaigning for the promotion of nutritious, micronutrient-fortified foods.

Initially, 12 large-scale mills were provided with necessary equipment, vitamin and mineral premix and training in production and quality control functions. These were mainly entrepreneurs from the largest urban centers, investing their own resources in the highly volatile wheat flour market. Later on, four additional mills were included in the program.

Samples of the flour is taken to test the quality in a lab. 

Already have capacity to produce more

The lack of import regulations in Afghanistan creates a situation where subsidised imported wheat depresses local prices and reduces incentives for production. The lack of national quality standards also provides sellers with the option of offloading poor quality commodities and non-fortified flour on the Afghan market.

Afghan millers simply switch off their production lines rather than lose money by trying to compete against cheaper imports. The local millers also struggle with high operating costs and poor quality of the local wheat grain. Even though the millers have the installed capacity to produce 600,000 metric tons of fortified wheat flour per year, they produced less than 25,000 metric tons in 2012.

The millers, P4P and its partners have recognized that larger issues involving poor quality of national wheat, trade and taxation policies are limiting the opportunities for national millers to compete in their own market. With the aim of increasing the local millers’ market share, P4P’s interventions throughout the value chain are increasing the Afghan people’s access to nutritious food.

Millers organised to advocate for new market rules and standards

In May 2012, P4P supported the establishment of the Afghan Fortified Wheat Flour Producers Association.

“Our potential production capacity is great but our factories are only functioning during harvest two months of the year. Each of us has invested up to US$1.5 million in this business. We purchase wheat in cash, but sell on credit. We need help to raise our voices and to convey our concerns to the government. With the right support, we can reach our full capacity within three years“ said Haji Hashim Ghazniwal, president of the millers’ association.

Through a multi-sectoral technical committee, partners are actively working towards the establishment of national wheat and oil fortification standards. Together with its partners, the millers’ association is also involved in the development of a multi-media campaign to build Afghan consumer awareness and demand for fortified staple foods.

Through this initiative, P4P in Afghanistan is providing assistance along the entire value chain. From support to farmers, food processors, government food quality control agencies, to building consumer demand for fortified foods. By recognizing that supply, demand and quality are interrelated concepts, P4P is simultaneously strengthening all these areas. This will ensure a longer-term impact and contribute to a sustainable market solution to malnutrition and food insecurity in Afghanistan.

Story by Susan Shulman, P4P Afghanistan