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Paving the way to improved nutrition with fortified school meals for students in Tanzania

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Thu, 02/29/2024 – 08:25

Around 130’000 school children in Tanzania are benefiting from eating fortified nutrient-dense meals through an initiative led by the Global Alliance of Improved Nutrition (GAIN) to help address the prevalence of chronic malnutrition in the country.

With a population of 64 million, Tanzania suffers from high rates of micronutrient deficiencies with one-third of children deficient in iron and vitamin A. Lack in such micronutrients for teenagers and young adults could impair their growth, learning capacity and development, and put them at risk of non-communicable diseases with consequential impact in later life.

According to UNICEF, increased rates of anaemia and lower body mass index among adolescent girls are causing growing concern across the nation.

Improved nutrition in schools throughout the value chain

To help lead the way to improved nutrition and tackle hidden hunger, GAIN is working with schools, processors and farmers in the country to provide school meals packed with nutrients.

Students at the Ifunda Technical Secondary School in the Tanzanian town of Iringa, over 400km from capital city Dar es Salaam, are now enjoying meals made from fortified vitamin A flour to boost their nutritional intake.

It starts early in the morning at the 10am break, where school prefects help to serve the rest of the 1,050 students with bowls of fortified porridge.

During a visit to Ifunda Technical Secondary School, or ‘Ifunda Tech’ as it’s known locally, GAIN had a hands-on insight into how the ‘farm to bowl’ journey is already taking effect.

“We offered to be the servers alongside the school prefects and quickly spread ourselves out accordingly and got to work,” said Edwin Josiah Project Manager, Biofortification. 
 

Serving from different stations to ensure everyone gets their share, we served bowl after bowl from the very first to the very last school child. It wasn’t just any porridge, but it is nutritious goodness made from pro-vitamin A maize flour.

Edwin Josiah, Project Manager, Biofortication

“Yellow in colour, the porridge is packed with vitamin A. Meeting the nutritional needs of adolescents is critical as it’s a time of rapid growth – physically, emotionally and cognitively,” he added.

GAIN thus extends its training to all the stakeholders involved in the value chain of such school feeding program from millers, suppliers, processors, school headmasters, cooks to the students themselves.

National School Feeding Guideline

Ifunda Tech is just one of 16 schools in the region, which range in size from 400-1,000+ students, who are benefiting from the nutritious meals made from pro-vitamin A.

This is in line with the Ministry of Education in Tanzania’s National School Feeding Guideline introduced in 2021, of which GAIN played a key part in its creation and implementation. Key components of the guideline include the importance of school meals, school management of the school feeding programme, responsibilities of various stakeholders, mobilization for community ownership and local contribution, and the use of data management systems.

Boosting good agricultural practices

As well as boosting the nutritional intake of students, at the same time, hundreds of farmers in Tanzania are thriving from the fortifying school meals initiative with better wages and improved agricultural training.

As part of the initiative, GAIN is working with a number of pro-vitamin A maize producers in Tanzania, including the family-run Ruaha Millers Association, one of the biggest processors in the region and fortified maize supplier to Ifunda Tech.

Ruaha Millers agronomists and field workers have teamed up with over 800 farmers at a ratio of 60:40 men and women, respectively, to engage and provide farmer training and education, such as guidance on the correct use of seeds and fertilisers. 

Due to the demand of schools across the region wanting to provide fortified schools meals, Ruaha Millers is producing and supplying about two tonnes of raw materials, like pro-vitamin A maize, every quarter.

The pro-vitamin A maize flour produced by these farmers is being supplied to schools and used in school meals such as light porridge, a thicker porridge called ugali or maize beans mix.

We (the farmers) started growing pro-vitamin A maize a few years back and it wasn’t easy as the harvest was still small. But as the days go by, we have seen great growth and demand”

Yasintha Kipeto from Ruaha Millers

“By working with GAIN, we have been able to raise awareness on the benefits of this Biofortified maize flour to many other schools and are keen on continuing to supply schools in collaboration with other institutions,” she added.

Reaching new markets and opportunities

The benefits to communities growing pro-vitamin A maize continue to be impactful.

“Farmers are now farming to sell and for their personal use. Selling increases their incomes and they have increased sustainability of their needs,” explained Ruaha Millers Association. 

“While for personal use, they now have more awareness of the health benefits for those amongst the most vulnerable in the community, such as children, women and pregnant women. The impact on their farms has also increased the sustainability of other needs,” added the association.

More opportunities are beginning to emerge to build on the production of pro-vitamin A maize, such as processing high iron beans, to continue driving improved nutrition in Tanzanian schools and increasing demand for fortified foods produced by trained farmers.

Benefits of school feeding programs in general include:

Increased school attendance
Improved eating habits (with fortified and bio fortified foods)
Reduced hidden hunger or micronutrient deficiencies
Increased food security
Reduced stigma

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01.03.2024
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Paving the way to improved nutrition with fortified school meals for students in Tanzania
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