The program to feed school children with Fortified Whole Grain Maize flour that provides five times more nutrients than regular refined flour could extend to more schools across the country under the School Feeding Program to ensure the country raises children with physical and cognitive development This was disclosed during an information and knowledge sharing event organized by Vanguard Economics in collaboration with National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) to bring together researchers, agricultural experts and food chain stakeholders to elaborate more on Rwanda’s Fortified Wholegrain (FWG) initiative, on January 31. The initiative was introduced and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in Rwanda in 2020 to gradually supply fortified whole grains and derived products to replace refined maize flour schools and eventually consumer markets in Rwanda. A whole grain is a grain of any cereal and pseudocereal that contains the endosperm, germ, and bran. To simply put it, the regular maize flour is produced from a small portion of the grain while the coat that has more nutrients is thrown away for animal feed. FWG maize flour is derived from the whole maize grain, providing consumers with an enriched flour. Experts indicate that it is five times more nutritious and at almost the same price as the regular maize flour. The pilot project covered 13,765 students from 18 schools in two districts Nyaruguru and Nyamagabe, and used FWG maize flour for use in meals over one school term, according to Vanguard Economics, the implementing partner. Diane Dusabeyezu, Program Manager at Vanguard Economics, emphasized that the fortified wholegrain maize flour can contribute to reducing the prevalence of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies as major public health concerns in Rwanda. “Providing nutritious food to school-aged children is crucial for their physical and cognitive development. Unfortunately, some children in various parts of the country do not have access to the necessary vitamins and minerals required for optimal growth and development,” she said. “The consumption of fortified whole grain maize flour can contribute to reducing the prevalence of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, which are major public health concerns,” she added. Joining efforts towards more productivity Dusabeyezu said that Vanguard Economics has signed an MoU with the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) to work together to scale up the project after the successful piloting. Signed earlier this month, the MoU establishes a collaborative partnership that sets out clearly joint roles and responsibilities of each partner towards successful implementation of the Fortified Wholegrain (FWG) initiative. The collaboration partnership between the two institutions will focus on areas of mutual interest namely rolling out maize processing millers for Fortified Whole Grain (FWG)initiative, research and exchange of expertise, organizing information & Knowledge sharing events among others. Dr. Christian Sekomo, Director General of NIRDA, cited “as we strive to build a more resilient and prosperous nation, we must ensure that we invest in research and development to promote the growth of our agro-processing industries.” He disclosed that they intend to equip milling machines to at least one factory at least in each province of the country to ease access to these nutritious grains. “As a research and development institution, we are ready to use our state of the art Life Sciences laboratory to conduct research in the fortified whole grains, be it in product testing, product development or any other needed area of research, we have that capacity, and we can outsource in other laboratories whenever need be” he said. It is expected that scaling up as part of the National School Feeding program could benefit 3.6 million children from pre-primary, primary and secondary schools across the country.. In addition, they will also increase the number of companies milling and supplying FWG to match the school demand with adequate supply. Promoting the use of fortified food Samuel Dusengiyumva, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, reiterated that the fortified whole grain initiative will have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the children in Rwanda. “Our children need to grow and develop properly, and this initiative will help to reduce the effects of malnutrition in our country. It has the potential to improve health and nutrition which will eventually improve the education system, and a stronger and more resilient economy, moving forward,” he added. A number of children in the country suffer from various forms of malnutrition and it is estimated that around five percent of children under the age of five are stunted. “We are encouraging the production of fortified foods, such as fortified whole grain, and we are promoting the use of fortified food in the school feeding program,” Dusengiyumva noted. Meanwhile, Dusabeyezu noted that this increased capacity is critical to keeping the shift of school meals to FWG cost neutral, reduce risk of single supplier, and lay the groundwork for future expansion of production to match future school coverage. “Doing so will deliver significant dietary and health gains across the continent to children through school meals and eventually the whole population through consumer market channels,”she said The FWG Initiative is funded by the Rockefeller foundation and implemented by Vanguard Economics.