Fighting Fe deficiency malnutrition in West Africa : an interdisciplinary programme on a food chain approach

M.A. Slingerland, K. Traore, A.P.P. Kayodé, C.E.S. Mitchikpe

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14 Citations (Scopus)


About 2 billion people, mainly women and young children, suffer from iron deficiency. The supply of iron (Fe) falls short when consumed foods have a low Fe content or when absorption of Fe is inhibited by the presence of phytic acid and polyphenols in the diet. Current interventions are dietary diversification, supplementation, fortification and biofortification. In West Africa these interventions have only moderate chances of success due to low purchasing power of households, lack of elementary logistics, lack of central processing of food and the high heterogeneity in production and consumption conditions. A staple food chain approach, integrating parts of current interventions was proposed as an alternative. The research was carried out in several villages in Benin and Burkina Faso to take ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversity into account. The interdisciplinary approach aimed at elaborating interventions in soil fertility management, improvement and choice of sorghum varieties and food processing, to increase Fe and decrease the phytic acid-Fe molar ratio in sorghum-based foods. The phytic acid-Fe molar ratio was used as a proxy for Fe bioavailability in food. Synergy and trade-offs resulting from the integrated approach showed its added value. P fertilization and soil organic amendments applied to increase yield were found to also increase phytic acid content of the grain and thus to decrease its nutritional value. Amounts of Fe and phytic acid and their ratio in the grain differed among sorghum varieties, illustrating the presence of genetic variation for Fe bioavailability. The current local food preparation method for one of the main sorghum-based foods (dibou) in northern Benin did not include processing steps that remove or de-activate anti-nutritional factors reducing Fe bioavailability. The preliminary results suggest that a feasible chain solution consists of breeding for high Fe and moderate phytic acid contents and using soil organic amendments and P fertilization to increase yields but that this needs to be followed by improved food processing to remove phytic acid. Further research on timing of application of phosphate, Fe fertilizer and soil organic amendments is needed to improve phytic acid-Fe molar ratios in the grain. Research on the exact distribution of Fe, phosphate, phytic acid and tannins within the sorghum grain is needed to enable the development of more effective combinations of food processing methods aiming for more favourable phytic acid-Fe molar ratios in sorghum-based food.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-279
JournalNJAS Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • nutritional disorders
  • deficiency diseases
  • iron
  • iron deficiency anaemia
  • food chains
  • interdisciplinary research
  • benin
  • burkina faso
  • west africa
  • burkina-faso
  • micronutrient density
  • nutritional quality
  • iron availability
  • edible portions
  • seed-germination
  • tannin content
  • sorghum grain
  • amino-acids
  • phosphorus


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