By Shawn Baker, HKI’s Vice President and Regional Director for Africa.
Two weeks ago, I arrived in Abidjan from Dakar in early evening. Passport control, retrieving luggage and getting out of the airport took only minutes. Hassle-free. In the past there would have been aggravations at each stage. This set the tone for most of my visit – after 10 years of political crisis and a contested election that resulted in weeks of warfare – Abidjan is back!
I am in the city for a West Africa regional workshop on industrial-scale food fortification. Ten years ago HKI and partners joined the West African Health Organization to organize the first Private Sector/Public Sector Dialogue on Food Fortification in West Africa. The Dialogue was supposed to have been held in Abidjan, however the events of September 19th, 2002 – the attempted military coup that led to a civil war and de facto partition of the country – forced us to relocate next door to Accra at the last moment.
It is moving to be back in an Abidjan that is in full recovery, and to have the opportunity to reflect on how far industrial-scale food fortification has also come in the last decade. Ten years ago when we met in Accra only one factory in all of West Africa produced a fortified product – just one flour mill in Freetown. Today, fortification is in full force in 12 of the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States and it is mandatory in 10 of them (and on the way to becoming mandatory in the rest).
The Consensus Statement that participants adopted celebrates these achievements and calls on further regional harmonization of standards and increased quality assurance and control. Food fortification in West Africa is a true win-win initiative – advancing both the regional trade and the regional health agendas – while benefitting tens of millions of West Africans who receive these essential vitamins and minerals in the cooking oil and wheat flour they consume every day.
In my opening speech to our partners, I quoted Helen Keller’s words: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Working together, we have already done so much for food fortification in West Africa, and we intend to do even more together.