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Hoping to end hidden hunger through food fortification

3513915682_5fddf68c11_nHidden hunger is defined as a "chronic lack of vitamins and minerals that can lead to mental impairment, poor health and productivity, or even death." A story in the summer issue of Stanford Business highlights the efforts of David and Stephanie Dodson, both alums of Stanford GSB, in bringing fortified foods to developing countries, where hidden hunger is an epidemic. In 2000, the Dodsons visited Honduras and were aghast by the number of  children suffering from neural tube defects - one of the common consequences of micronutrient deficiency. That trip led to the creation of Project Healthy Children:

Today, PHC's small staff is on the ground in five countries, where they conduct research, assist governments in passing food-fortification laws, help food manufacturers find financing, and offer advice on how to create reliable nutrient-monitoring systems.

These efforts have helped combat nutritional deficiencies in the urban locations where PHC operates. But conventional food fortification does not reach rural areas, leaving the populations there at risk. "You can pass all the laws you want, but you're not reaching the most vulnerable people," says Stephanie Dodson.

So six years ago, PHC began developing technology that they hope will help reach the 1 billion people with no access to centrally processed foods. The new device, created in collaboration with students from Stanford's Design for Extreme Affordability class and currently being field-tested in Nepal and East Africa, is an automated, one-size-fits-all dosifier that dispenses iron, folic acid, and vitamin A into cereal grains, and fits into any type of mill hopper. It costs just $500.

Thanks to a grant from FARM Fund, a social-entrepreneurship investment vehicle started by fellow Stanford GSB alum Thomas Bird, PHC is in the process of creating for-profit entity Sanku to commercialize the technology. If successful, it could fund PHC's food-fortification expenses — and the technology itself could reach more than 100 million people. "I know the number sounds incredible, but that's only 10% penetration," says David Dodson, who is president of PHC.

The Dodsons say they plan to expand their efforts to reach more populations in need:

By 2017, PHC hopes to have reached 70 million people in seven countries through conventional food fortification, and as many as 100 million through small-scale fortification. It is well on its way. By year's end, PHC will have completed its mission in Rwanda and Malawi, where its food-fortification efforts have reached 15 million people. "That's our biggest success yet," [David] Dodson says. In other words, PHC is halfway home.

Previously: Malnourished infants grow into impoverished adults, study showsBetter school lunches – in China and New photography exhibit casts light on what starvation and abundance look like
Photo by TheFutureIsUnwritten

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