Project Healthy Children (PHC), a non-profit organization that provides technical support in the design and implementation of countrywide food fortification programs, proudly announces today that its small scale fortification initiative, Sanku, has been awarded the Grand Prize in the Askoka Foundation Changemakers Nutrients for All competition.

Ashoka Changemakers is the world’s leading community of over 3,000 social entrepreneurs and among the world’s most robust laboratories for launching, refining, and scaling ideas for solving the world’s most pressing social problems. Changemakers, along with its Nutrients for All program, have been seeking innovative solutions that will ensure the availability of nutrients for healthy, natural ecosystems, farms, food, and people. Over 400 entrants were competing for a chance to win, with only three being selected as Grand Prize winners.

From the official announcement posted yesterday on Forbes.com, Ashoka states;

“There’s a growing number of social innovators who are targeting nutrition as a key lever for solving a myriad of global problems—and they’re doing far more than pushing your everyday food pyramid. They are tackling problems along the entire nutrient value chain”

Since 2000, PHC has been assisting governments and industry across the world to ensure comprehensive, national fortification programs are thoroughly designed and implemented as one of the most effective means of addressing micronutrient malnutrition. PHC current operates programs in Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Liberia, and Zimbabwe.

With the passing of national food fortification standards in line with local consumption patterns and deficiency rates, large scale centralized mills are required to include missing and essential vitamin and minerals to their flour. However, PHC estimates that 30% – 40% of the population is still left unaddressed through these larger, centralized markets.

Project Healthy Children CEO, David Dodson, recalls when he first realized the scale and scope of this un-met need. “I was driving through rural Rwanda, where PHC was working with the government to design and implement a nationwide food fortification program, to enrich staple products with vital vitamins and minerals essential for good health.  The effort was certain to profoundly change the health profile of women and children in that country.  But as I passed by the small farms, I realized that the programs we had designed would never reach the rural, very poor, Rwandans with no access to centrally processed foods.  The problem was that there was no technology, or means, to fortify foods outside the large urban mills—worse…this was a problem for nearly a billion people lacking access to centrally processed foods.”

So it was in 2008 that PHC began working on a small scale solution.

“We began with a design created at Stanford University and then took it into the field”, states Felix Brooks-Church, Sanku’s Founding Technology Officer. “Over the course of the last four years we have now developed a device that can be implemented in over 80% of rural hammer mills in east Africa”.

Earlier this year, Sanku, officially entered the Tanzanian market. The company is currently in the process of delivering 100 devices for a USAID sponsored program near Dar es Salaam. “We estimate that this initial order will fortify up to 1 million people in rural and peri-rural areas” stated Brooks-Church, “Our goal is to reach 200 million people by the year 2020”.

Food fortification is the practice of adding essential vitamins and minerals (e.g. iron, vitamin A, folic acid, zinc, iodine, B vitamins) to staple foods to improve their nutritional content. It has been used around the world safely and effectively since the 1920s. Commonly fortified foods include staple products such as salt, maize flour, wheat flour, sugar, vegetable oil, and rice.

The annual human toll of micronutrient deficiency is significant: 1.1 million children under the age of five die due to vitamin A and zinc deficiency, 350,000 children become blind because of vitamin A deficiency, 136,000 women and children die due to iron deficiency, and 18 million babies are born mentally impaired because of maternal iodine deficiency.

The Copenhagen Consensus estimates that every $1 spent on fortification results in $9 in benefits to the economy. An initial investment is required to purchase both the equipment and the vitamin and mineral premix, but overall costs of fortification are extremely low. Even when all program costs are passed on to consumers, the price increase is roughly 1-2%, less than normal price variation.

For more information on Project Healthy Children and the Sanku Initiative, please visit www.projecthealthychildren.org or email info@sanku.com

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