Iodine Global Network (IGN)


How the salt industry is helping to boost I.Q. and economies in Africa

November, 2017

How the salt industry is helping to boost I.Q. and economies in Africa

by Festo Kavishe and Vincent Assey
In Eastern & Southern Africa, countries are putting national nutrition on the agenda as an investment in economic prosperity. Universal Salt Iodization is in the vanguard.
Thousands of salt producers are scattered across Tanzania, inland and on the coast. On a recent field visit, we witnessed a wide variety of methods and tools employed amongst different producers in the business of harvesting salt. Inland in the region of Dodoma, salt is harvested from interior brine using salt boilers. Along the coast, in the regions of Pemba and Mtwara/Lindi, salt is harvested from seawater using solar evaporation. In both cases, the salt from small-scale producers has a large crystal size and often includes impurities which darken the color of the salt. At markets and retailers, this domestic salt is sold alongside salt imported from Kenya, which is highly refined and packaged in small quantities.
Across this diverse salt industry, transformation is now underway to help consolidate efforts in order to improve the salt supply and assure that salt contains adequate iodine to meet the nutritional needs of Tanzanians. Sufficiently iodized salt will increase I.Q. and boost the economy.
Water is filtered through a series of pots filled with salt-bearing soil. The resulting brine is concentrated and evaporated to get salt.
Tanzania has had a successful Universal Salt Iodization (USI) program which has contributed to the nation’s economic development, but with this success, those in the field recognize that we need to focus on program enhancement and sustainability. At the national level, Tanzania has achieved optimal iodine status, overcoming a historically high prevalence of iodine deficiency. However, despite a success story at the national level, regional disparity persists, with 8 of the country’s 30 regions still classified with a suboptimal iodine intake.
Tanzania is considering a model rolled out in Ethiopia. In the past year, Ethiopia successfully achieved iodine sufficiency after a long struggle with iodine deficiency and a poor supply of iodized salt. Ethiopia faces similar challenges as Tanzania and Mozambique with regard to the salt industry. Diverse salt sources and production methods lead to heterogeneous raw salt, and manual iodization methods used by small producers lead to inconsistent quality of iodized salt.

"Tanzania has had a successful Universal Salt Iodization (USI) program, which has contributed to the nation’s economic development. But with this success, those in the field recognize that we need to focus on program enhancement and sustainability."

To address these challenges, Ethiopia centralized its salt iodization. The IGN, working with the Government and other partners established a Central Iodization Facility (CIF) which now serves as the intermediary between the many raw salt suppliers and the relatively few wholesalers and salt traders. The CIF purchases raw salt from suppliers and transports it to a centralized site, where salt undergoes processing which includes washing, refining and iodization before it is packaged, and distributed.
Concrete steps have already been identified to consolidate the salt industry in Tanzania to improve the national supply of iodized salt by working with key partners including Salt Producer Associations, Government Ministries and international development partners to establish centralized salt processing facilities. This arose from a comprehensive inter-agency program review that IGN undertook of the USI situation in Tanzania, together with UNICEF, GAIN, Nutrition International (formerly Micronutrient Initiative) and national stakeholders to better understand the situation.
This salt, produced locally in Tanzania, has been iodized. It bears the iodized salt logo in the top-left corner.
In Tanzania, the consolidation approach would require nothing short of industry transformation. Procurement of raw salt and iodizing at scale would enable a more cost-effective operation, more rigorous quality assurance, and other efficiencies of scale including a reasonable profit margin. Stakeholders agree that it will be a priority to target the regions identified with the lowest iodine intake, along with the producers supplying those regions.
Already, we have been able to achieve a high level of consensus and commitment from stakeholders to move toward this solution. The IGN together with partners held Tanzania’s first National Summit on Food Fortification along with GAIN, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, TECHNOSERVE, HKI, and AMREF. USI and the opportunities for program enhancement were featured at the Summit and the stage is set to accelerate the process.

About the Authors

Dr. Vincent Assey, a native of Tanzania, received his PhD in Public Health Nutrition from Bergen University (Norway). He is Head of Nutrition Services at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Tanzania and the Iodine Global Network Regional Coordinator for Eastern & Southern Africa.
Dr. Festo Kavishe has an MD from the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), and an MSc in Human Nutrition from the University of London (UK), among his degrees. He is former Managing Director of the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre, Deputy Regional Director of UNICEF in East Asia & Pacific, and the Iodine Global Network Regional Coordinator for Eastern & Southern Africa.