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Assessing the economic value of fortified foods

Summary of published paper1

CSB distribution in Ethiopia

In some communities an affordable nutritionally adequate diet based on local foods may be difficult to achieve without the introduction of a low-cost fortified-food supplement. In emergencies the addition of a fortified food supplement may be required to ensure nutritional adequacy of the emergency food aid basket. However, even if the cost of food fortification is low, its implementation requires a strong commitment from local governments, food industries and donor agencies who do not always perceive the benefits of this approach. In part, this is because the benefits of food fortification are not easily quantified in economic terms.

A recent study attempts to show how a mathematical analysis known as 'linear programming' (LP) is potentially a powerful tool for identifying a least cost nutritionally adequate diet2. Specifically, LP can be used to work out the cheapest way to introduce a fortified food supplement that provides a nutritionally adequate diet. The 'tool' can also provide an estimate of the expenses saved by families in relation to the sums spent by the donor after the distribution of a food supplement.

The study, which was based on a food price survey in Chad, compared the economic value of two food supplements in rural Chad - a traditional blended flour (maize and cowpea flour, with sugar fortified with a standard mineral and vitamin mix) and a nutrient dense spread. The fortification level of this spread was based on a pilot supplementation programme study in Algeria. It was assumed that these foods were distributed freely, i.e. as food aid. The resultant savings for a family in providing a nutritionally adequate diet for each child was calculated. The savings were slightly higher for the blended flour. In contrast, the ratio between the amount saved by the families and the amount spent by the donors is higher for nutrient dense spread than blended flour because of the higher cost of blended flour. Each dollar spent by the donor on nutrient dense spread saved US$7.07 for the families, as compared with US$4.15 for blended flour. In other words the nutrient dense spread is more cost-effective than the traditional blended flour. These results were not easily predictable when the costs were compared in isolation, i.e. prices per kilogram and per quantity of energy contained in each food type.

It was noted that the method should be further refined by taking into account costs not included in this example, such as the cost of targeting food distributions, of administrative overheads or of training food aid staff. The article concludes that the method has wide application for evaluating the economic benefits of different types of nutritionintervention programmes including supplementation, fortification and agriculture programmes.

Show footnotes

1Briend.A, Ferguson.E and Darmon.N (2001): Local food Price Analysis by Linear Programming: A New Approach to Assess the Economic Value of Fortified Food Supplements: Food and Nutrition Bulletin, vol 22, no 2, pp 184-189

2Linear programming is a technique that minimises a linear function of a set of variables while respecting multiple linear constraints on these variable. It can therefore be used to minimise the price of a diet while fulfilling constraints introduced to ensure a palatable and nutritionally adequate diet based upon Recommended Daily Allowances for different nutrients. The Excel 97 spreadsheet has a LP function in all its recent versions. The function is found in the "tools" menu.

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Assessing the economic value of fortified foods. Field Exchange 14, November 2001. p5. www.ennonline.net/fex/14/assessing