Egypt Bakes Nutrition Into Daily Bread

Bread fortified with iron and folic acid stacks up at a bakery in Cairo before being sold to local women. Just USD $0.20 will buy enough for an entire meal. Copyright: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Baladi bread is the backbone of the Egyptian diet. Cheap, filling and ingrained into Egypt’s culture, it’s also the only food most poor Egyptians can afford. That’s why WFP and partners are enriching it with micronutrients to bring proper nutrition into the homes over 50 million people. Watch video

CAIRO – Preparing meals for a family of seven on less than USD $3.00 a day is no simple chore. Just ask Nabawya, 45, who does it every day. As a widow raising six kids in the teeming metropolis of Cairo, she has to fight everyday to put bread on the table—and more often than not, that’s all there is.

“This is what we survive on,” she says holding a round piece of pita bread. “It’s all that we can afford. Sometimes we eat it with eggplant or beans, but most of the time we just eat it plain.”

Partner in Nutrition

WFP's chief partner in the project to fortify baladi bread is the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Together WFP and GAIN have reached over 66 million people with nutritionally enriched foods.

Daily bread

Nabawya  and her family are among millions of Egyptians who subsist almost entirely on baladi flat bread. Long subsidized by the government to keep prices within reach of the over 49 percent of Egyptians who live on under USD $3.00 a day, baladi bread makes a filling meal loaded with calories and carbohydrates.

However, it’s also lacking in many important nutrients the body needs to be healthy, which is one reason for Egypt’s high levels of child malnutrition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in two Egyptian children under five is anaemic.

In a bid to fight malnutrition in Egypt, WFP has been working with the government since 2008 on a nationwide plan to fortify baladi bread with micronutrients like iron and folic acid, both  vital to children’s development.

Far-reaching benefits

After two years, vitamin-enriched bread has found its way into the homes of over 50 million people—nearly 70 percent of Egypt’s population. For 20 cents a stack, women like Nabawya can buy a stack of bread packed with all the nutrients their children need to grow up healthy.

“This is often the only food I can provide for my children, so it’s comforting for me to know that it’s still good for them,” she said.

In addition to curbing child malnutrition, the fortified bread may also be a boon for the economy. According to a May study by WFP, Egyptian employers stand to gain over USD $175 million by reducing levels of anaemia in the workforce. In fact, every USD $0.17 invested in fortifying flour is estimated to return over $4.00 to the economy.