2021 Rolex Awards Laureate
Eradicate malnutrition in Tanzania, one fortified bag at a time
Poor nutrition contributes to 15,000 preventable child deaths daily worldwide. American social entrepreneur Felix Brooks-church has an answer: an ingenious system to ensure that each meal consumed by every mother and infant living in an underprivileged society contains essential, life-saving nutrients. His project is bringing new life and hope to children in Tanzania, as a model for the world.
At the heart of Felix Brooks-church’s project is an inspired invention, a ‘dosifier’ that fortifies every bag of flour sold by local millers by adding a measured dose of vitamin B12, zinc, folic acid and iron. The process is supported by a clever business model that ensures that small, local flour mills – often overlooked by government dietary enrichment programmes – can use the dosifier at no extra cost to themselves or their customers. His social enterprise, Sanku, buys flour bags cheaply in bulk, then sells them to the millers at market price. The margin is enough to cover the tiny cost of the added nutrients. This model ensures that Brooks-church’s project is extremely cost-effective, costing less than $1 to fortify food for one person for an entire year.
The motivation for Brooks-church’s mission to end malnutrition sprang from his volunteer work in Cambodia, 10 years ago. “I ran a project to get street children off the street, into our centre and eventually back into their schools and families,” he says. Poor nutrition was the root cause of what ailed them. “I soon realized these children were often sick. They had weak immune systems, low IQs, learning disabilities and some died from things that you should not die from.”
Realizing that rescuing street kids did not solve the deeper problem, he soon saw he had to deliver to both mothers and babies the nutrition essential in the first two years of life. That lit a spark – a burning ambition to take sound diets to a hundred million children, worldwide. “There was just such clarity that this is what I needed to do. This is what I wanted to do. That was really the start of this journey.”
Brooks-church’s dosifiers are light, but strong and reliable, measuring each dose of nutrients with precision. They are also networked via the internet, enabling him to monitor mills across Tanzania. They now help nourish two million people a day.
While sales of flour bags cover the cost of the added nutrients, Brooks-church will use his Rolex Award funds to purchase 40 more dosifiers to transform small-scale mills, feeding up to 200,000 people with enriched flour. He also hopes the Award will raise the project’s profile, attracting enough support to scale up significantly.
Brooks-church plans to install another 180 dosifiers in Tanzanian flour mills this year, before expanding into other nations at a rate of at least one country per year.
“What we are doing is not just adding nutrients to food,” he says. “What we are doing is ensuring a basic human right to good nutrition. It is the same for shelter, safety, water. There is a lot of injustice in the world – and this is my part to play, to equalize.”