Fortified Biscuit Initiative in Nicaragua

As part of Sera Scandia’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), it is subsidiary Protena (Nicaragua) produces chocolate biscuits fortified with heme iron derived from dried bovine haemoglobin – donating all the ingredients for the biscuits while our associate, Buon Pan Bakery, lends their bakery to prepare and bake the biscuits. Then, NGOs like Rainbow Network in Nicaragua, distribute the biscuits free of charge to needy people in shelters and asylums.

The Need for Iron Fortification in Developing Countries

Our motivation for this project is to help address the unfortunate prevalence of Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) in Nicaragua and other developing countries throughout the world, and the negative impact it has on the cognitive development and education of children and youth.

At an international level, the benefits of fortifying food is being promoted by several organizations such as FAO,  WFP and companies such as NestleMondelezDanone and the Gates Foundation. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), which receives donations from the Gates Foundation, recently published an article entitled How do we end malnutrition in our lifetimes, according to The Guardian, “childhood nutrition is the most critical and economically sound intervention”.

The above links are just some of the many reports and facts on this subject.

Our inspiration also stems from the fact that fortifying biscuits with heme iron, has proven to achieve success and work efficiently when efforts are coordinated between the government, universities and private industry. We refer to the examples in Costa Rica and in Chile (please see link to view the Chilean study in detail).

The Potential of Iron Fortification to Address Iron Deficiency Anemia and Improve Nutritional Outcomes

It should be noted that unfortunately in most cases iron fortification projects on a worldwide level do not use iron from animal sources. Remarkably, animal-origin heme iron is biodigestible and, in humans, is absorbed 10 times better than inorganic iron. It also contributes several other unique positive attributes not found in iron from vegetables. A Chilean study emphasizes that “there are several reasons to use iron from haemoglobin in the prevention of iron deficiency anaemia:
  1. Heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron,
  2. When iron from haemoglobin is added to test meals, it is better absorbed than non-heme iron,
  3. Iron from haemoglobin is not prevented from being absorbed by the iron absorption inhibitors present in food.
Unlike inorganic iron, heme iron is soluble in an alkaline medium, which means that the intestinal environment is more favourable for its absorption. It should be noted that other iron sources of animal origin which are important for child nutrition, such as iron from milk and eggs, are poorly absorbed in the intestine.” The prestigious scientific journal “Nature” published an article where that conclude the following: “The fortification of biscuits with haemoglobin appears as a promising way of providing children with bioavailable iron”. We also learn from the Chilean study that “in the first phase of policy formulation, it is particularly important to convince government authorities about the need for intervention and to persuade them to provide the necessary resources. The bases for a successful national program are obtained through the confidence and support of the political forces and the government.” We want to have this same success in Nicaragua and in other countries where there is a great need to combat anemia.  Like what happened in Chile in 1970-1985, we strive to become a key part of an alliance between government, academia and industry that will make it possible to achieve the same effect as in Chile.

Success of Iron Fortified Biscuits in Improving Nutritional Outcomes in Chile

The Chilean study also shows that the following elements were key parts of achieving success: “The transition from a carefully designed pilot research project to a national program was achieved as a result of (1) belief in the nutritional value of the fortified biscuit, (2) The use of an already existing delivery system, (3) the support of the Ministry of Education, and (4) the collaboration between various government ministries.  These alliances maximized the support efforts and assured the effectiveness of the project. School officials, health clinic directors, and community leaders have all joined in promoting iron-fortified biscuits and iron-fortified milk.  The far-reaching success and sustainability of these programs have been achieved, in part through government publications, participation in international scientific conferences, and the publication of countless articles in magazines and books with worldwide dissemination.  Nutritional education was used to increase the understanding of the benefits of these fortified products.” It has become clear that we cannot achieve our vision alone, and that we need extra support in order to make a local and – hopefully – regional and/or global impact. Currently, we continue to seek additional partners to help achieve our mission and vision and find a way to repeat the Chilean success in Nicaragua and other countries of the region.  Surely other countries will also be able to see the positive impact that including fortified biscuits in their school lunch programs can have in their educational system and consequently to long-term societal development. We invite you to visit our website ironfortified.com which informs the public about our project and describes in detail our motivation and insistence on the urgency of promoting a large-scale iron fortification programme using bio-digestible heme iron.