Better Foods for Better Lives
Better Foods for Better Lives promotes both agricultural and private sector development in developing countries. Funded through the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food for Progress program, the project promotes private sector economic growth in Cambodia through the development and distribution of low-cost, value-added food products. The program strengthens private-sector noodle producers, bakeries, and snack and soy milk manufacturers; creates sustainable employment opportunities; promotes production and consumption of value-added locally produced foods; and improves the nutritional status of low-income households and schoolchildren.
IRD contracts with, and provides technical assistance to, a large flour mill in Cambodia to mill and fortify wheat flour with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). IRD also contracts with and provides fortified flour to local noodle producers and bakeries to produce high-quality noodles and bread. The program has both direct distribution and social marketing components. Snack noodles, bread, and soy milk are distributed free of charge to schoolchildren, while low-cost fortified instant noodles are marketed to low-income consumers through existing private sector marketing and distribution channels. More than 19 million packages of low-cost fortified noodles (Mee Dara) have been produced and marketed since May 2005. In addition, 8,500 primary school children are receiving bread, snack noodles, and soy milk every morning as part of IRD’s efforts to combat malnutrition and increase school attendance rates.
Better Foods for Better Lives is having a positive impact on the economy of Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the world. As a result of the project:
- Local wheat milling capacity has increased by 31 percent, and the country’s largest mill has commenced producing fortified wheat flour for the first time in the country.
- The local noodle factory now produces at full capacity, operating three shifts 26 to 28 days per month.
- 110 female noodle factory workers now have full time jobs; before, they worked just 16 days per month.
- 50 new jobs have been created to operate a third noodle production shift.
- Several small food processors have received technical assistance to add nutritional value to their products.
- Six local small-scale bakeries have increased their production of bread by 20 percent and have demonstrated substantial improvements in food handling and hygiene practices.
Better Foods for Better Lives is generating jobs for 313 workers during production and packaging of flour, bread, noodles and soy milk, while indirectly supporting over 2,500 additional jobs involving the distribution and marketing of the products. Due to increased efficiency and promotion of local brands in the market, private sector food processors in Cambodia is now better positioned to compete with companies from the neighboring countries of Vietnam and Thailand. Better Foods for Better Lives supports Economic Development in Cambodia by:
- Increasing employment and generating income in Cambodia through support and development of the local food processing industry – specifically the noodle production industry which includes local flour mills, noodle factories and bakeries.
- Cambodia consumes approximately 1,100 metric tons of noodles per month. Locally produced noodles account for only 25 percent of the market share – 75 percent are imported. High production costs make noodles produced in Cambodia expensive in comparison with imported low-cost noodles from Vietnam. Promoting local noodle production stimulates market competition and the local economy.
- Through USDA's support, IRD is able to assume some costs in the development of a new brand of noodles produced locally. The noodles are targeted specifically to approximately 1 million poor families who are food insecure and have limited income to spend on food.
- Noodles produced under the Better Foods For Better Lives program are enriched with soy flour and fortified with vitamins and minerals which assist in lowering malnutrition rates of low-income Cambodian families. Imported noodles contain minimal nutritional value in comparison with noodles produced under Better Foods For Better Lives. The program provides millions of packages of instant noodles to low-income Cambodians in traditional markets nation-wide.
- For the first time, a Cambodian mill is fortifying flour with vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A, B1, and B2, folic acid, iron and zinc. As a result of its collaboration with IRD, one of the country's two flour mills—accounting for 50 percent of all flour milled in the country—has decided to extend fortification to all of its flour.
- Direct distribution of vitamin and mineral enriched foods to Cambodian school children and low-income households.
- Stimulating school attendance and supporting education in remote rural schools: IRD distributes fortified snack noodles, soy enriched bread and soy milk to primary school children. IRD uses its entree into the schools to conduct health and hygiene education using child-friendly approaches such as puppet shows, mobilize communities in improving hygienic conditions in the schools, and provide safe drinking water using rain water catchment and point-of-use disinfection.
- Addressing micronutrient deficiencies and improving the nutritional status of pregnant, lactating, and women of reproductive age: Low-cost fortified noodles are also available at the market to humanitarian organizations for use in their feeding and nutritional initiatives. CARE, the Cambodia Red Cross, Vietnam Veterans International, CESVI, Cambodian Children’s Fund and the Swiss Red Cross are some of the organizations using IRD’s noodles for their feeding programs.
- IRD works US and European commodity groups to provide technical assistance to food processors in the areas of food fortification and enrichment, product development, laboratory testing and quality control.
- IRD's successes with private sector distribution of fortified foods have convinced it that Cambodia's consumers are educable and its private sector capable of meeting consumer demands in innovative ways with a little external facilitation.
IRD developed this program model in 1999 and since has implemented it through USDA-funding utilizing 135,200 metric tons of Food for Progress and 416(b) commodities. Under this unique program, IRD produced and sold over 2 billion packages of fortified, soy-enriched wheat and rice noodles at subsidized prices to low-income consumers in seven provinces, meeting a critical gap in the diet of many low-income families in the region (4.5 million consumers per month benefit directly; 67 percent of those fall under the official poverty line).