The Gambia set to meet international standards for food safety and quality - Using tool to boost food fortification and food systems

Monday, June 04, 2018

Efforts aimed at combating malnutrition through quality control of locally produced and imported food commodities in The Gambia received a huge boost on with the presentation of more than two dozen of a device meant to determine levels of vitamins and minerals in food and biological fluids to the Gambian government.

The portable rapid test kit called iCheck measures the concentration of vitamin A, total carotenoids oriron, and thus serves as a useful tool in the quest to achieve a sustainable food fortification initiative and arobust foods system for The Gambia.

The iCheck kit was procured by FAO through the project entitled “Improving Food Security and Nutrition in the Gambia through Food Fortification”. The four-year intervention co-funded by the EU (80%) and FAO (20%) is designed to contribute to improving the nutritional and health status of vulnerable populations suffering from micronutrient deficiencies throughout The Gambia with specific focus on women, adolescent girls and children under five in the North Bank and Central River regions.

Perpetua Katepa-Kalala, FAO Country Representative presented the iCheck kit to Cherno Omar Barry, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare at a brief ceremony in Banjul. A total of 26 pieces will be shared among the following agencies/institutions: Food Safety and Quality Authority (17), National Agricultural Research Institute (3), Food Technology Service under the Department of Agriculture (2) and the National Public Health Laboratory under the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (4). The support comes hard on the heels of a 5-day intensive training programme for laboratory technicians on the use of the device.

Speaking on the occasion, Cherno Omar Barry, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare who also doubles as Chairman of the Project Steering Committee commended FAO and partners for this laudable initiative. He stated that, “The assistance will help food inspectors and laboratory technicians to quickly confirm the fortification level or composition of constituents in food products.”

This, he said, will not only help make food safe and healthy in the country, but it will also enable the country to meet international standards for food safety and quality. Barry also underscored the need for the project to promote nutrition education and agricultural diversification to help combat the high level of malnutrition and poor eating habits in the country. He thanked the EU and FAO for the investment and assured that the kits would be put in to good use.

Perpetua Katepa-Kalala, FAO Country Representative described the event as an important milestone in the fight against malnutrition in the country. She expressed optimism that the kits would be judiciously utilized to promote evidence-based planning and support the establishment of food safety and quality systems. She explained that at the end of the project it is expected that at least 65% of the Gambian population has increased their dietary diversity score and their consumption of fortified foods. Furthermore, their knowledge and skills on the production of bio fortified crops will be enhanced too, she added.

Modou Njai, Director of Health Promotion and Education under the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and a member of the Project Steering Committee chaired the ceremony. He also underlined the significance of the intervention towards the attainment of optimal health and nutrition for the Gambian populace.