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Promoting locally fortified sunflower oil with e-vouchers

September 26, 2018

Malnutrition is a critical development challenge in Tanzania, particularly in the Manyara and Shinyanga regions where vitamin A deficiency is prevalent. Up to one-third of rural children and 37% of women of reproductive age lack basic micronutrients, which can lead to stunted growth, increased susceptibility to disease, and greater risk of birth defects. Vitamin A deficiency can be particularly disastrous for children, who are at risk of developing xerophthalmia, an illness that can ultimately lead to blindness.   

Research highlights

  • Producing and selling fortified crude sunflower oil for rural residents is both technically feasible and profitable

  • Consumer discounts stimulate demand for fortified oil

  • Local producers can reach more vulnerable residents by partnering with local retailers

  • Family nutrition improves when cooking with fortified unrefined sunflower oil

Large-scale producers manufacture refined sunflower oil that is fortified with vitamin A to counter this deficiency, but it is sold in large urban centres — far from the most vulnerable people in rural regions.

In 2013, the Government of Tanzania officially launched a national food fortification program that requires the country’s food industry to fortify cooking oil, among other products, but there was no evidence that it was technically feasible or sustainable to fortify locally produced unrefined oil on a smaller scale to serve rural populations.

Improving accessibility

The MASAVA project (Swahili for “natural sunflower oil fortified with vitamin A”) supported local small and medium entreprises (SMEs) to fortify and sell sunflower oil in the underserved Manyara and Shinyanga regions.

A joint effort between IDRC, the University of Waterloo, the Mennonite Economic Development Associates, and Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture, the project demonstrated that it is both technically and commercially feasible for rural SMEs to successfully fortify unrefined sunflower oil with vitamin A to reach the those who need it most. The project supported three local SMEs in acquiring suitable production equipment and packaging and securing the appropriate regulatory approvals. Over the course of the project, these producers succeeded in selling 142,000 litres of fortified oil, marketed under the brand name MASAVA, for distribution through a network of 319 retailers. 

Stimulating consumer demand

To encourage sales and consumption of the fortified oil, e-voucher discounts (offered to consumers by mobile phone) and e-wallet discounts (managed by retailers) were introduced. Behaviour change communication activities bolstered the use of e-vouchers. These activities — which included presentations at clinics, cooking demonstrations, and appearances at sporting events — sought to educate women and men about the health benefits of vitamin A-fortified oil. “I was grateful to learn about the importance of vitamin A for the mental and physical development of my child,” said Amina Juma, a mother who attended a MASAVA seminar at a clinic in the Manyara Region. “I’m looking forward to using the oil at home.”

Sales grew even more when retailers started carrying larger vessels of fortified oil instead of only 1L containers. These  5L, 10L, and 20L containers allowed retailers to sell smaller “scoops” of oil to customers — a more affordable and accessible option for women and poorer households.

Tausi Khalfan was skeptical about selling MASAVA at her shop in the Manyara region until she started carrying the larger containers of oil. When she exclusively carried the 1L containers of oil she sold 83 cartons over the course of two months, but when she introduced the 20L containers she managed to sell 110 scoops in only two weeks. “I’ve been recruiting retailers and telling them to buy this improved oil,” she said. “It is local and better for you. The brand recognition has improved over time.”

Retail sales of MASAVA oil rose from 5-10% of oil sales to 20-50% over the duration of the project.

It is estimated that up to 500,000 rural Tanzanians were reached with the new vitamin A-fortified oil. The growing sales indicate that it is possible for a locally produced crop to be successfully processed by local businesses and sold by local retailers. Most importantly, it also demonstrates that vitamin-A fortified oil can improve food security and support Tanzania’s national food fortification program while stimulating local economic growth — even after incentives like e-vouchers end.

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The Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF) is jointly funded by IDRC and Global Affairs Canada.

Learn more about this project and its outcomes.