LIFESTYLE, agriculture and eating habits are slowly being transformed in East Africa, thanks to the initiatives of Royal DSM - one of the world’s largest producers of micronutrients that has entered the bloc’s doors.
With the first base in Rwanda, where it is operating to reach other East African countries, Royal DSM is the largest shareholder in Africa Improved Foods (AIF) company in Rwanda that has started its mission to curb malnutrition through the $60 million state of the art plant located in the Kigali Special Economic Zone.
In an interview with the ‘Daily News’, the Vice President, Nutrition in Emerging Markets of Royal DSM, Mr Fokko Wientjes, said they had heavily invested in producing vitamins and enzymes and that now their focus was Africa, given the fact that it faces a huge challenge in malnutrition, with high levels of stunting children and women lacking iodine.
Mr Wientjes said the food industry and markets grow fast in East Africa; hence there is a need to regulate them, to ensure what is produced and supplied has the standard quality of nutrients,reducing sugar and salt as well as aflatoxin levels.
He noted that the best way for East Africa is to produce more food and buy local, doing away with imports as well as ensuring that foods consumed have the required nutrients.
Rwanda has 38 per cent of stunting children. Over half of African countries are experiencing malnutrition, including all six East African Community (EAC) member states.
The vice president said Royal DSM said in Rwanda they had already engaged with more than 24,000 farmers who supply the company with crops.
Royal DSM is a Dutch multinational – a purpose-led global sciencebased company in nutrition, health and sustainable living. It delivers innovative business solutions for human and animal nutrition, personal care and aroma, medical devices, green products and applications, and new mobility and connectivity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) nutrition targets call for a 40 per cent reduction in the number of children underfive who are stunted, 50 per cent reduction of anaemia in women of reproductive age, 30 per cent reduction in low birth weight, no increase in childhood overweight, increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50 per cent and reducing wasting to less than five per cent.
The AIF Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr Amar Ali, said the company now produced high quality nutritious complementary foods specifically for young children between six months and two years as well as pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
He noted that AIF Rwanda targets to reach about one million children in Rwanda, already with its products being used in Rwanda and Uganda and soon start exports to the Democratic Republic of Congo and looking at other markets in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia.
“Our products are already used in Rwanda and Uganda, and we will soon start exporting to the DR Congo. We are also looking at other markets like Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia as our aim is to be a regional player,” Mr Ali revealed.
AIF Rwanda is a joint venture created in 2015, between the Government of Rwanda and a consortium of four partners; Royal DSM, the majority shareholder; IFC, the Dutch Development Bank (FMO) and the British government’s development finance institution CDC Group.
Already the AIF Rwanda is reducing reliance on foreign aid by bringing the production of relief foods into the local economy while maintaining European level food safety standards.
Their products, designed for children and mothers, are made using locally grown maize and soya that are blended with a nutrient mix to address the physical and cognitive ‘stunting’ that results from malnutrition.
The factory makes a million servings a day and pumps around $20 million into the local economy every year. Malnutrition in Tanzania stands at 28 per cent while in Kenya it is 30 per cent.
Former Tanzania President, Mr Jakaya Kikwete, said in Nairobi recently that the area was forgotten but a lot had been done and it was a matter of time that Tanzania would be in a good position.
Mr Kikwete, who is also the Chairman of the Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete Foundation (JMKF), said Tanzania was making a huge stride in the area, with fortification of food such as cereals, edible oil and iodisation of salt, explaining that every district had a nutrition officer and he was informed that the system he set when he was energy minister was intact.
The former president said JKMF that had been in touch with SUN Business Network (SBN) was curbing malnutrition and would be focusing on maternal and child health, advocating to ensure reduction in maternal mortality, anaemia so as to end stunting and have a productive labour force and hence growing economy in East Africa.