When he was growing up, Venkatesh Mannar and his siblings treated the family saltworks as their playground: they would slide down mountains of salt drying in the sun the way other children might sled down snow-covered hillsides.

The salt operation, in the southern Indian port city of Thoothukudi, had been founded by his grandfather’s grandfather. As they had for generations, men stood in the brine, using wooden trowels to rake thick crusts of salt that formed on shallow pools of seawater, and then piled it high to dry into crystals. 

After several years in the United states, first studying and then working at salt producers that used giant mechanized harvesters, Mannar returned to India in 1972, intent on building a large, modern saltworks facility near Chennai with the mechanical know-how he’d gained. Then, in the early 1980s, the world began to take an interest in eliminating iodine deficiency, which causes problems ranging from hypothyroidism to learning difficulties. Mannar, while continuing to run his business, became a consultant for UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). He visited countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to persuade them to iodize their salt, a practice that has been common in much of the developed world for decades.

He recalls arriving once in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and discovering that the WHO representatives there couldn’t even tell him where salt was being produced: “They had no information!” Mannar took a car to a local market and strolled around, polling the shopkeepers selling salt on where they got it. After reconstructing the supply chain that way, he tracked down the country’s salt producers to talk to them about iodine. Mannar figures he went to over 50 countries on similar missions. Today, an estimated 6 billionpeople globally have access to iodized salt, in no small part thanks to Mannar.

But from the early days, Mannar was also concerned with another element that many people don’t get enough of: iron. A lack of it is one cause of anemia, which affects over 1.6 billion people. The condition is especially prevalent in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In India alone, more than half of reproductive-­age women are anemic, along with nearly 60% of children under five. Its symptoms include dizziness, poor maternal and infant health, decreased cognitive function, and the telltale listlessness that Indians call “lack of blood.”

Mannar thought salt, which is consumed nearly universally and with almost every meal, might be the best vehicle to deliver small amounts of iron that would have a huge public health impact. “Even from the 1970s I was very conscious about iron deficiency,” he says. “It became a secondary priority because of the push with iodine.”

Mannar eventually made defeating anemia with iron-enriched salt part of his life’s mission. Adding iron to salt that is already iodized—resulting in so-called double-fortified

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By: Katie McLean
Title: One man’s crusade to end a global scourge with better salt
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2020/12/18/1013234/salt-dfs-iron-iodine-anemia-mannar-nutrition-international-india/
Published Date: Fri, 18 Dec 2020 11:03:00 +0000

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