Rehema Gabriel Makame, 27, does not think twice when the matter of salt arises. She has plenty of it in her two kilogramme container, thanks to the geographical location of her Makulu village in Chali Ward of Bahi in Dodoma.
The area is within the Rift Valley. With 500/-, she gets more than one kilogramme of salt, manufactured at Ikasi village in Sanza ward of Manyoni District in Singida, the area that separates Dodoma and Singida in the Rift Valley.
“We use the salt manufactured here, not the packed one unless the stock is over and production at Ikasi is not going on,” says the mother of Mariam and Herman.
She has no clue that proper use of boost the growth of her children mentally and physically. Pendo Laurent is a pregnant mother lives in Makulu village too. She uses locally produced salt for cooking and preserving food. The 19-year-old mother started attending clinic in her sixth month of her pregnancy.
“Eat fresh food and avoid farm works,” she quotes health worker advice adding that she is clueless on iodized salt other than that is produced locally at Ikasi.
Due to the cheap price of the salt produced in her locality, Elizabeth Mathias says, majority of the Chali ward residents and Bahi do not use the packed salt, which has been approved by Tanzania Bureau of Standard (TBS) and Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA).
“Since we are close to the production area, we get the salt at 200/-. We do not care about approval from government agencies so long as we get a taste in our food,” the 40-year-old mother adds.
Visiting the local salt production area of Ikasi, men and women are busy processing salt for customer from Dodoma town and traders who supply the food ingredient to various markets in the country.
Testing Iodine Happiness Daudi at Ikasi is collecting sands and put it into a pit containing water. She steers it to get brine solution. Then, she boils the solution to saturate it, leaving the salt in the pan. She collects the soil and dries it, ready to sell to her esteemed customers.
According to her, they have been visited by government officials to educate them about the importance of iodizing salt but that chemical is not available all the time. Ismail Kondo, who has been working at the area for 10 years, says although sometime government supplies iodine to small scale salt producers, there is no mechanism to force locals and traders to buy Iodized salt in accordance to TFDA directives.
"Some fear the cost; some do not even want to hear about that, especially locals who have been using Ikasi salt for many years ago. So the issue of iodizing salt has become an optional," says the man.
Ephraim Kianga, the leader of the 31-member-group of salt producers, says even if the salt is iodated at Ikasi production site, it iodine cannot last longer simply because cheap packaging materials cannot resist direct sunlight and moisture.
Residents in Bahi are saying their locally produced salt is fine and there's no need to fortify it. Mr Andrea Yohana Ndoha, a forty-one-year-old man ailing at Makulu village says, his family has been using the Ikasi salt for couples of years with no health problem.
The samples of salt collected from three households of Igongo, Makulu, Isanga villages and Ikasi, the manufacturing site, were tested using Iodine Test Kit namely MBI Kit.
The packaged salt approved by Tanzania Bureau of Standard was involved as well. Omari Yusuph Mndeli, a businessman living at Igongo village, keeps MBI Kit and Iodine Solution for his only customer who buys an iodated salt.
I ask him to test the sample of salt collected from the villages and the results were as follow: Mndeli adds a spoonful of iodine solution into a container with 200ml of water.
He steers for some seconds until the iodine dissolves into water. The shop owner pours some few drops of the Iodine solution to the samples of packaged salt and that taken from three residents of Igongo, Isanga, Makulu and Ikasi where the salt factory is located.
After some few seconds, samples of salt collected from residents and Ikasi factory show no changes. Meanwhile, sample of salt drawn from a sachet labeled “Iodated Salt” changes into purple colour.
Then Mndeli says “we have been told that if the sample changes into purple; it shows it is iodized salt. It doesn’t change, and then the salt has not been iodized.” Asked on the findings, Tanzania Food and Nutrition Center (TFNC), Senior Research Officer, Neema Joshua confirms that what Mndeli did is a “simple method of testing if the salt has been iodized or not.”
Iodine deficiency disorders Tuzie Edwin, a nutrition specialist with an international organization in the country says the importance of the using iodized salt helps protect children from brain impairment and growth retardation.
The specialist says using non-iodized salt contributes to chronic malnutrition and subsequently stunting which prevents a child from growing properly-physically and mentally.
She adds that, the iodized salt is not merely important for child development, but also to the expecting mothers since, “it helps the child to grow well-physically and mentally while in her womb and protect her from miscarriages.”
According to her, the experience shows places where locals are producing salt; children are facing iodine deficiency disorders simply because most of families are using non-iodized salt.
Although Tanzania Food and Nutrition Center (TFNC) Survey shows the chronic malnutrition has sharply dropped in the country from from 42 per cent to 35 per cent by 2014, UNICEF’s 2015 press release estimated that more than 2.7 million of country’s children are stunted while 430,000 others are suffering from acute malnutrition.
In 2013 former President Jakaya Kikwete launched a national fortification program which focused on the most commonly consumed foods.
The aim was to curb the deficiency of iodine to boost mental and physical growth of children. The government’s move was underpinned in the Section 5 of Tanzania Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 2010 which states “a person shall not manufacture or cause any other to manufacture for sale, distribute, store or display salt for human or animal consumption unless such salt is iodated....”
Also, Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC) has the power to oversee nutrition and food and nutrition related activities in the country, still salt from small scale producers is not being iodated.
The nutritionists are saying it contributes to stunting of children. According to Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey and Malaria Indicator Survey (TDHS-MIS) 2015-16, 36.5 per cent of children under five in Dodoma region are stunted; the TFNC researcher says using non-iodized salt can be a factor.
Chronic malnutrition and School Performance As the chronic malnutrition is affecting children in Dodoma, National Examination Council (NECTA) indicates that region’s five districts including Bahi performed below 60 per cent pass rate in 2016.
Currently, the national pass rate is 80 per cent. The PSLE results in 2015 and 2015 in row show that Dodoma was among 10 poorest performing regions in the country. Twaweza’s 2016 Study shows that there is a link between malnutrition and poor performance of pupils.
According to Twaweza out of 197,451 were tested in Numeracy, English and Kiswahili level II. In all subjects, well-nourished children performed well rather than moderately and severely malnourished children.
In Numeracy, for instance, 53.4 per cent of well-nourished children passed while only 37.7 per cent of moderately malnourished children performed well. Only 35.5 per cent of severely malnourished children passed.
In relation to the poor academic results in Dodoma, nutritionists Tuzie and Neema are jointly advising parents to invest more on children’s nutrition since there is a direct link with their future academic performance.
However, UNICEF is insisting on investing on first 1,000 days of a child, from when a mother conceived until the second birthday of a baby because it a time when human being grows mentally and physically.