It will take many initiatives in order to achieve Vision 2020.
The surprising one and easiest is the support of a comprehensive food fortification programme.
The programme, which is underway, will entail adding vitamins to foods. Food fortification is common in many other countries including the United States and Europe.
Through food fortification, staple products like salt, cassava, or cooking oils are fortified with important micronutrients like iron, iodine, and vitamin A.
In this way, every time a Rwandan eats a meal, they are also going to be getting these vital vitamins and minerals. Why is this so critical to achieving Vision 2020?
Micronutrients are essential to human resource development and creating an entrepreneurial, knowledge based, economy. Consider that iron deficient anaemia, a condition where a person has an inadequate level of healthy red blood cells.
Iron is naturally, found in a few vegetables but is most common in meats, (but) Rwandans eat less meat.
Anemia in children affects their physical growth, mental development, and learning capacity (WHO, 2007) and we cannot expect to evolve to an information-based economy without well-educated children. Beyond just educating our children, anemia affects productivity in the workplace.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that anaemia among men and women reduce productivity by as much as 30 per cent.
Iodine is another micronutrient essential to achieving Vision 2020.
Iodine deficiency is not just the leading cause of mental retardation in the world, but even more relevant to Vision 2020 is that it reduces IQ by as much as 15 per cent in children.
It is estimated that as many as 50,000 children in Rwanda suffer from mental impairment due to a lack of adequate levels of iodine.
Iodine deficiency is especially prevalent in mountainous areas of the world like Rwanda where the iodine has been leached out of the soils through natural erosion.
While Rwanda has made great strides in correcting this problem through iodizing our salt (the only Rwandan food fortification program in place today), we must improve compliance and consider other food staples to fortify.
In order to reach our aspirations, Vision 2020 for example contemplates 100 percent enrolment in primary schools as one of the 47 indicators. Yet full enrolment is not sufficient if our children arrive at school unprepared to learn and to reach their full potential.
The same is true for other indicators such as the number of technical training centres, to open by 2020 or having 100 percent of our teachers fully qualified.
None of these indicators will, by themselves, lead to accomplishing the ambitions of the four pillars outlined in Vision 2020 – our students in primary, secondary, and tertiary education must be prepared to learn when they enter the classroom.
This is why proper micronutrient health is essential to reaching Rwanda’s dream of Vision 2020.