June 2022

The news last month that the World Bank would provide an additional US$12 billion for new projects to promote global resilience in response to the ongoing food security crisis made a lot of sense to IGN. Our organization has worked for sustainability since its inception. Adding iodine to salt is a prime example of a low-cost, high-impact solutions to address the negative impacts of iodine deficiency that countries can implement with little or no support from external agencies.

Achieving sustainable solutions is, as Andreas Bluethner of the Bill & Melinda Gates put it, a marathon, not a sprint, and we’re in it for the long haul. The World Bank plans to support food producers by removing trade barriers, facilitate increased trade by removing import and export restrictions, and to make food systems more resilient to rising risks of trade disruptions and economic shocks. In IGN’s experience these are indeed key areas which influence the sustained and uninterrupted availability of iodized salt in many countries.

Here’s just one example of how improving production and streamlining trade would make salt iodization more sustainable. A study of food trade in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) found that food exports by member countries represented only 5% of intraregional trade, meaning countries have yet to fully exploit the potential for food commodity trading within the region. Despite having the natural resources to supply salt, just under half of the 1.2 million tons formally declared and traded in the region in 2020 was from West African countries. Nigeria imported US$77 million worth of salt – mostly from Brazil – in 2020, likely due to lack of regional ability to produce enough high-quality salt and, in some cases, due to existing trade dynamics. You can read more about this study and about salt iodization in West Africa in the current issue of IGN’s newsletter.

A key objective for IGN is to design simple, sustainable methods of helping program managers to identify and understand issues or bottlenecks that are preventing populations from having access to good quality iodized salt. Availability of reliable information on import and export of adequately iodized salt, and the functioning of quality control mechanisms, while aiming to optimize trade, is part of such a system required to achieve sustained protection against iodine deficiency.

People say there’s a point in a marathon where you hit a ‘wall’ and feel you can’t go any further. The better prepared you are, they say, the less likely you are to face this problem. Striving for sustainability is clearly the way forward, and we at IGN work towards that every day.