We designed an interlinked study to understand prevailing fortification practices adopted by salt and edible makers. Our study aimed to inform policymakers on both quality and intake of fortified product.
This research project aimed to generate information to facilitate the design of a system to substantially improve the compliance of food fortification for both edible oil and salt in Bangladesh. This required situation analysis, evidence gathering, study of factors that may influence the design of fortification efforts, and the potential for success of such efforts.
The project consisted of three interlinked studies designed to build on each other’s findings. The value chain analysis under Study A explored how edible oil and salt are produced, processed, fortified, packaged and distributed. Building on the findings of Study A, Study B investigated the factors underlying key decisions along the value chains, which lead to differences in fortification compliance among different types of salt and edible oil. And lastly, Study C explored the behaviours of salt and edible oil producers under market and regulatory constraints in Bangladesh.
Study A: Value chain analysis of edible oil and salt
Value chains of edible oil and salt were studied with a focus on the origination, distribution and transportation of bulk edible oil and unpackaged salt in Bangladesh.
Study B: Understanding drivers of behaviour in value chains
This component aimed to understand the factors underlying key decisions along the value chains which lead to differences in fortification compliance among different types of salt and edible oil, so that corrective programming or policy modifications can be made. Building on the findings of Study A, it intensively identified key decisions being made along the value chains, looked at the distribution of incentives, share of value, business relationships, costs and risks, and broader institutional factors that affect the value chains, as well as factors that determine consumer choice (e.g. availability, affordability, and brand).
Study C: Drivers of compliance with food fortification regulations among producers of edible oil and salt in Bangladesh
This study investigated the behaviour of firms producing salt and edible oil under market and regulatory constraints related to fortification. This resulted in the first systematic empirical evidence on the topic.
Study participants were reticent to disclose certain information (e.g. the costs of production). In some cases, the participants refused to participate in the study altogether. This explains the low number of oil refineries that this study was able to interview. These challenges need to be viewed against the backdrop of an evolving policy environment regarding food fortification and broader food standards and intensified efforts on the part of the government to enforce fortification law.
A limitation of the study, as expected, was firms’ willingness to declare the quantity of products that firms sell in bulk. Firms may not report bulk production as this is often sold loose and unfortified. We attempted to mitigate this risk by asking about branded and unbranded products – as firms were more willing to report their production according to these neutral categories. Our data reveals that while oil firms hesitate to report loose/bulk oil production, salt firms appear to have an unclear understanding of what constitutes packaged and loose salt. However, what is re-assuring is that we find no systematic under-reporting of branded/unbranded products for the complying and non-complying group, which helps us to analyse the drivers of compliance.
Overall, a mixed methods approach was adapted. Based on secondary sources there was an in-depth review of relevant literature and data including relevant policies, laws and regulations on the edible or vegetable oil sector; industry data provided by GAIN (sourced from the Ministry of Industry, Govt. of Bangladesh)); and market studies on the edible oil sector, including those providing information on the distribution and consumption of edible oil in the country. Researchers conducted semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions of value chain actors, market players, consumers of salt and edible oil and other key informants. Study C included a firm-level survey of edible oil and salt producers in Bangladesh to capture the main drivers of compliance and non-compliance with food fortification regulations, considering the specificities of these two industries in local context.
Findings suggest that better enforcement of fortification of bulk oil by refineries would be preferable of these two options, in terms of improving consumers’ access to and consumption of fortified oil, aligning the incentives of most actors (except the refineries) and being less resource intensive for the government. In addition, regulatory agencies should clearly communicate to private sector actors why fortification is mandated and what consequences non-compliance can have. However, if the government is unable or unwilling to enforce the fortification of bulk oil by refineries, then the alternative is to discourage the consumption of bulk oil. Stopping the use of bulk oil by households will be more efficientvis-a-vis depending primarily on awareness-raising campaigns.
In order to increase the intake of fortified salt, policymakers need to eliminate non-fortified products from the food chain, and to encourage small-scale mills to either upgrade to be able to produce packaged, fortified salt, or to produce salt only for industrial uses.
In summary, compliance and enforcement strategies combining awareness raising with a prudent inspection policy accounting for differential institutional settings are more likely to enhance compliance behaviour for oil and salt makers in Bangladesh. Prioritising future programmes that enable such mechanisms should be priority for governments and other stakeholders working to improve compliance to food fortification standards.