Project Lead(s): Gavin Armstrong
In Cambodia, six in 10 women are anemic due to iron deficiency in their diets, causing premature labour, hemorrhaging during childbirth and the impaired brain development of their babies. Usually obtained through red meat or other iron-rich foods, a small chunk of iron added to water in the cooking pot can release a life-saving iron supplement. But attempts to persuade mothers to do so were unsuccessful. On a 2008 study mission in Cambodia, University of Guelph researcher Chris Charles thought of creating a piece of iron shaped like a local river fish believed to bring good luck and fortune. His simple idea succeeded beyond all expectations.
Women happily placed the Lucky Iron Fish in their cooking pots and, in the months that followed, anemia in the village fell dramatically. A Lucky Iron Fish is small enough to be stirred easily but large enough to provide about 75 per cent of daily iron requirements.
“The results are stunning,” says Dr. Alastair Summerlee, President of the University of Guelph and Chair of the Board of Directors of Lucky Iron Fish. “Initial results show a huge decrease in anemia and the village women say they feel good, experience no dizziness and have fewer headaches. The iron fish is incredibly powerful.” Small businesses across Cambodia will produce and distribute the fish with quality control measures in place. About 7.5 cm (3 inches) long, and made from recycled material at a cost of about $5 each, the iron fish provides health benefits for roughly three years.
“Our goal is to produce 10,000 Lucky Iron Fish this year and another 50,000 next year,” says Gavin Armstrong, President and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish.
“U.S. President Herbert Hoover once famously promised his constituents ‘a chicken in every pot.’ We have no chicken to offer but hope that one day a Lucky Iron Fish will be in every pot in Cambodian villages, saving and improving lives through the enriched intake of iron in food and drinks.” Taking the project to scale offers profound potential health benefits to many women in Cambodia, with potential markets throughout the world. Grand Challenges Canada’s $500,000 loan to Lucky Iron Fish is part of a total scale-up financing package of $860,000, and augments earlier commitments of equity investors Innovation Guelph and the University of Guelph.