Bringing the "A" game
Imagine yourself as a child—with a catch. You’re shorter than your friends, it takes you longer to recover from an illness, and you always seem to struggle in school. Later in life, you experience trouble in pregnancy and you find it hard to see at night.
If you live in a developing country, there is a chance you suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is found in leafy greens, sweet potatoes and pumpkin and animal sources of protein; foods which poorer households can’t afford. In Tanzania alone, one third of children and women of reproductive age are Vitamin A deficient, causing adverse development outcomes throughout childhood and beyond.
In 2014, MEDA began MASAVA, a project striving to address the widespread deficiency problem in a sustainable manner through local business. MASAVA, a Swahili acronym that translates to “Healthy Sunflower Oil Fortified with Vitamin A” seeks to integrate the important vitamin into common sunflower oil used in rural Tanzanian communities.
The project is funded by in part by MEDA supporters and with the financial support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada. With training from Sokoine University and technical assistance from BASF’s Food Fortification Initiative, the MASAVA project works through local oil processors who fortify the unrefined sunflower oil with Vitamin A. MEDA then educates communities and promotes the oil in local markets through a mobile-based e-voucher scheme, similar to an introductory product coupon scheme you might see at your local supermarket.
Hitting the shelves
In late November 2015, MEDA project manager for private sector development and health Nadira Saleh traveled to Tanzania to witness the market launches of the innovative sunflower oil. “The product launches serve a dual purpose. We feature local music and dance artists to create consumer interest in the product, and supplement with educational information sessions on the importance of Vitamin A to gain their confidence, leading to consumer sales,” said Saleh.
The product faces an uphill battle against “the scoop,” or the traditional oil-purchasing method. Rather than visiting the local market and purchasing unfortified oil in bulk, MEDA is encouraging consumers to purchase tamper-proof one-liter opaque bottles of the Vitamin A fortified oil at a cheaper and more cost-effective rate, guaranteeing them product integrity in lines with the guidelines of rigorous research. Yet recognizing the demand in the marketplace for twenty liter containers that can be used for “scooping” the daily requirements of a household, MEDA is also exploring prospects for the millers to offer fortified oil in this traditionally preferred package size too,
Saleh explains: “A liter of traditional unfortified oil sells for about 3,000 Tanzanian shillings. Our fortified oil sells for 3,800 shillings, but with the e-voucher discount, consumers pay 2,900 shillings ($1.34 USD). We’re trying to create value for the product, and hope that over time, people realize the important role Vitamin A plays in nutritional health and continue to demand the product on its own nutrition merits.”
In an interview, Saleh expressed her excitement for the cutting-edge MASAVA project
"As far as we know, this is the first time unrefined fortified sunflower oil is being sold in the developing world. The project is a hybrid model combining health education and discount-based marketing. Our goal at the end of this project is to see better nourished households and to provide robust evidence-based research that proves that this model works.”
MEDA is working with three research teams to capture data and consumer behavior: Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania), the University of Waterloo (Canada) and the Royal Tropical Institute, or KIT (Netherlands).
When we’ve succeeded
When the project ends in early 2017, MEDA hopes to have increased access to fortified sunflower oil to the families of 65,000 children, potentially having reached over 400,000 individuals. Increased access will help decrease the rates of malnutrition due to Vitamin A deficiency. By working through local partners and businesses, MEDA will have strengthened the local economy, providing employment opportunities and better livelihoods for farmers and entrepreneurs.