The Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI) is the first-ever platform that allows food processing companies to publicly report and track levels of staple food fortification, in addition to other quality system metrics — providing a transparent way to measure and incentivize industry-wide progress on fortification.
The MFI was developed by TechnoServe as part of its Strengthening African Processors of Fortified Foods (SAPFF) project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve food processors’ fortification of staple foods in Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania.
“We believe this tool should be adopted by all companies involved in fortification, and I believe it should be made available to stakeholders and shareholders alike,” said Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria.
Food fortification, in which essential micronutrients are added during food processing, is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce malnutrition at scale. But until recently, there was no public way to track or measure companies’ compliance with fortification standards.
That changed in Nigeria last week. To mark the launch of the MFI, TechnoServe, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Flour Millers Association of Nigeria (FMAN), and Lagos Business School organized a hybrid virtual and in-person event in Lagos. The meeting gathered CEOs from leading food processing companies, senior government officials, suppliers, advocacy and sustainability partners, and a wide range of development partners.
“I hope that the MFI can contribute immensely to the nutrition landscape by making food fortification part of the daily business practice by food processors and by harnessing their competitive spirit to improve their food fortification performance,” said Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, in his remarks to the audience.
“This index is about partnerships, it’s about transparency, it’s about accountability,” said Victor Ajieroh, Senior Program Officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “It’s about being intentional in leveraging innovations for better progress in the Nigerian fortification ecosystem.”
A New Idea for Promoting Fortification Progress
The idea for the MFI grew out of the 2018 meeting of the Nigeria Food Processing and Nutrition Leadership Forum, an annual event convened by TechnoServe, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Dangote Foundation. This public-private gathering of Nigerian food and nutrition leaders identified the need for a platform that would enable food companies to measure their fortification progress against other businesses in their sector – and make the results public for the first time.
TechnoServe set to work developing this system. The process included cross-sectoral feedback from key decision makers within both the public and private sectors and included targeted advocacy and communications strategies to raise awareness of fortification as a solution to challenges on the ground.
“We were clear in our minds that for food fortification programs to thrive, we have to put the food industry in the center of the conversation,” explained TechnoServe’s West Africa Regional Director Larry Umunna in his event remarks. “After all, they produce the food. We know that they care about their consumers…They want to be accountable…But they want a level playing field for fair competition to happen. A business case for food fortification was needed to get them on board.”
The resulting MFI is a self-regulatory platform that verifies a company’s fortification compliance through: 1) a self-evaluation tool; 2) a verification process conducted by an independent expert group; and 3) product quality testing.
The MFI posts an annual ranking of companies based on their compliance levels, freely available online to everyone, from other food companies to government institutions to consumers.
As TechnoServe’s SAPFF Director Dominic Schofield noted, this allows companies to use the MFI both as a “internal continuous improvement tool” as well as an “outward-facing product brand ranking that harnesses the competitive nature of companies that are racing for food fortification excellence, while striving for market dominance.”
And this transparency also assists government regulators, who invest significant time and energy in monitoring companies’ fortification compliance. “The beauty of the MFI, especially since it is being led by the industry, is that it will encourage and ensure effective self-regulation,” said Talatu Ethan, Deputy Director of Micronutrients Laboratories for the Standards Organisation of Nigeria. “The issue of running after industry will come to an end.”
A Business-Based Tool for Improved Fortification
Applying TechnoServe’s market-based approach to development challenges, the MFI was designed to incentivize private sector participation. It achieves this through the following:
- Providing companies with public recognition for good fortification compliance
- Incentivizing companies to improve or maintain high fortification standards, through public comparison with other companies
- Demonstrating a “level playing field,” in which all participating companies are shown to be expending costs on fortification compliance
Thirteen Nigerian food companies representing 18 brands have completed the MFI’s self-assessment and were included in the fortification rankings. At the launch event, executives from these companies praised the business-friendly nature of the MFI.
“The launching of this index will help a lot in developing our own internal controls and systems, and ensuring that the whole process will be more structured – and that the whole system will work towards assuring the goal of [improved fortification],” said Ravindra Singhvi, managing director of Dangote Sugar.
“I would like to congratulate TechnoServe for the launch of the MFI,” added Alok Khator, Vice President of Manufacturing for Crown Flour Mills (Olam). “This is the right thing to do, and very much required especially [given] the challenges in Africa and especially in Nigeria about malnutrition.”
The significance of the collaboration between so many business competitors – and other cross-sector stakeholders – was not lost on the event attendees.
“Nigeria has turned ‘Mission Impossible’ to ‘Mission Impossible Fulfilled’,” remarked food fortification consultant Philip Randall in written comments during the event. “It is astounding we have everyone around the table and data being shared.”
“The Start of a Journey” in Fortification Innovation
Participants in the launch event called for expansion of the MFI in Nigeria – and even beyond.
“Let’s get more companies onto the index, let’s get more CEOs of food companies to adhere to this – and also see how we can expand this outside of our own borders and do this in other countries,” said Zouera Youssoufou, CEO of the Aliko Dangote Foundation.
Andreas Bluethner, director of nutrition for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called the MFI launch “the start of a journey in the form of an open collective innovation that raises the bar and that aims at bringing others into that loop.” This included, he said, taking the innovation “potentially into neighboring countries.”
And the MFI is just one milestone in the continuing effort to fight malnutrition through food fortification, especially through the private sector. In August 2021, TechnoServe organized a “Food Fortification and Digitization Roundtable” to explore how food companies could optimize fortification through cutting-edge technological solutions.
In December, the annual Nigeria Food Processing and Nutrition Leadership Forum will focus on platform improvements; include reporting from current participants; and encourage participation from new organizations. TechnoServe will also share a roadmap for engaging with users, consumers, and partners, with the goal of exhibiting the value of the MFI and driving wider adoption across the food processing sector in Nigeria.
The updated MFI rankings will also be announced at the December event. This full list of participating brands will remain posted until the rankings are updated next December, based on new company data. Brands that would like to see their rankings improve will be incentivized to enhance their fortification operations in the meantime.
This type of market-based, systems-driven approach underlies much of TechnoServe’s work in food processing and beyond. And as climate change, COVID-19, and other crises threaten food security and nutrition around the world, it will be even more critical in working with partners to drive future progress.