Improving Nutrition with Fortified Flour in Afghanistan

Tucked away on an industrial estate in the urban area of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, the Bakhtar Flour Mill may seem an unlikely location for a project that not only supports smallholder farmers, but also helps to improve the nutrition of hundreds of thousands of Afghans. 

Levels of food insecurity and undernutrition remain persistently high in Afghanistan. One of the ten countries with the highest burden of undernourished children, it is affected by some of the highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates in the world. As bread is the staple food for most families in Afghanistan, using flour that is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals is both a practical and feasible solution to address micronutrient deficiencies across the population, and ultimately contribute to a world of Zero Hunger.

WFP supports mills making fortified flour, and then buys the flour to provide to vulnerable people – such as in the food-assistance programme for displaced families.
On a recent visit, the World Food Programmes’s Executive Director Ertharin Cousin helped highlight how the project is combating malnutrition and helping Afghan economic development.

“The majority of poor people in Afghanistan are farmers working in rural areas, working in agriculture,” she said. “It’s not just about increasing quality and quantity, it’s about ensuring that those farmers have access to reliable, sustainable and durable markets, and that’s what this mill provides.” 

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin meets with Bakhtar Mill Manager Abdul Mateen, during her visit to Afghanistan. Photo: ©WFP/Jeanne Spillane

WFP began supporting local flour fortification in 2006 in five mills across Afghanistan, and now provides equipment and the vitamin and mineral mix – known as premix – to 27 mills across the country. Bakhtar Mill, which joined WFP’s fortification programme in 2011, has produced 13,500 metric tons of fortified wheat flour so far this year. In the first 6 months of 2016, WFP-supported mills in Afghanistan produced 67,000 mt of fortified flour, enough for more than 400,000 people to eat bread made from WFP fortified flour.

The Executive Director asked manager Abdul Mateen Rahimi if the mill would continue to produce fortified flour if WFP were no longer a buyer. He replied that now they are aware of the importance of fortification, and their customers recognize the high quality of the flour they produce, he expected the market for their flour to continue to grow.

Through its Purchase for Progress (P4P) programme, WFP supports smallholder farmers by connecting them to markets – giving them an opportunity to grow their businesses and improve both their lives and those of their entire communities. 

WFP has provided training to 27 mills across Afghanistan. Photo: ©WFP/Wahidullah Amani 

With its launch in Afghanistan in 2009, P4P has been sourcing locally produced wheat from smallholder farmers’ organizations to link them to the market. As a result, 20,000 smallholder wheat farmers are now organized in 86 farming cooperatives, and millers are required to locally source 30 to 50 percent of the wheat grain used to produce flour for WFP distributions. Since July 2015, WFP has provided only locally fortified wheat flour – as the cereal component of its food basket – under its food-assistance programmes.

WFP’s flour-fortification programme supports the government’s National Nutrition Policy and targets the general population. WFP has also been working with the government on food-quality and control standards, has helped set up the Afghanistan Fortified Flour Producers’ Association, and is supporting the Ministry of Public Health in communicating the benefits of fortified foods.