Fortified rice and freedom from malnutrition | MCUTimes

Fortified rice and freedom from malnutrition

In his Independence Day speech, the Prime Minister made a groundbreaking announcement to achieve independence from malnutrition. Referring to malnutrition and lack of essential nutrients in poor women and children as an “obstacle” in their development, he announced that by 2024, from ration shops to dinner dishes, all rice delivered to the poor will be amplified.

The timing of the announcement could not have been more appropriate as malnutrition is still one of the biggest and most persistent challenges. The National Family Health Survey 2015-16 states that every second woman is anemic, every third child is stunted and malnourished and every fifth child is wasted. Furthermore, over 70 percent of the population consumes less than 50 percent of the recommended dietary supplement. Disturbingly, we have underperformed nutrition indicators against not only similar cohort countries such as China, Mexico, Brazil, but also other South Asian countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India’s low rank on Global hunger index (GHI) in 94 out of 107 countries emphasizes the urgent need to address malnutrition and deficiencies in micronutrients.

Despite efforts, there has been no noticeable decrease in anemia among women. The WHO declares it to be a serious health problem if 40 percent of the population has anemia. NFHS-5 (2019-20) shows that actual anemia among non-pregnant women and children has increased in 16 and 18 states / UT, respectively. An emergency for public health is staring at us with consequences for deaths under 5 years of age, low working capacity and low income. Malnutrition causes 68 percent of the deaths below 5 in India; Stunted children earn relatively 20 percent less as adults than healthy adults. It also poses an economic burden of an astonishing $ 10 billion annually in terms of lost productivity, illness and death. We risk wasting two generations, as the intergenerational anemia has long-term consequences.

With 65 percent of the population consuming rice at a rate of 6.8 kg per. Per capita per. Month and an abundant supply of about 350 lakh tonnes (LMT) through social safety net programs in India covering 81 crore people in PDS, 8.5 crore in ICDS and 10.4 crore beneficiaries in MDM, rice is without a doubt the most effective tool to provide micronutrients to the vulnerable population.

Among the three road bio-enrichments, micronutrients (vitamin B1, B6, Thiamin) unpolished rice and enrichment of rice with iron, folic acid, vitamin B-12 fortified rice proved to be the best and most cost-effective way to improve nutritional value. to improve nutritional outcomes in the short term by requiring minimal behavior change for acceptance. The impact of bio-fortification, although a potentially promising long-term strategy, has yet to be determined. Unpolished rice has a low shelf life (3-6 months), is susceptible to insects and microbial infestations and has low uptake of micronutrients due to high dietary fiber. Integration of enhanced rice into social safety net schemes such as PDS, MDM and ICDS will address the micronutrient gap in a sustainable way.

Long-term empirical evidence supports the benefits of rice fortification globally, with many countries experimenting with it as a tool to deal with malnutrition through mandatory and voluntary approaches. The WHO’s meta-analysis of 16 countries on rice enrichment shows that enriched rice reduces the risk of iron deficiency by 35 percent. Successful pilot programs have been implemented by states such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Chandigarh, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala through their ICDS and MDM programs and show signs of a 10 percent reduction in anemia in Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) and Narmada (Gujarat) districts.

India is in a good position to utilize established ecosystems to upscale rice fortifications at the national level. FSSAI has already announced its standards in 2016. In a significant step, the Centrally Sponsored Pilot Scheme on Rice Fortification via PDS, an idea sprouted at NITI Aayog, has been rolled out in six states (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat; Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu , Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh) and is expected to be launched soon in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana and Uttarakhand. A total of 1.73 LMT of enriched rice is delivered through the pilot scheme. In addition, Food Corporation in India already procures 6.60 LMT out of 31 LMT enriched rice for distribution in ICDS / MDM. 2,600 rice millers in 14 states have also installed blending equipment with a capacity to blend 14 LMT enriched rice. 34 producers of Fortified Rice Kernels (FRK) operate on the market with an annual output of 60,000 MT, which is enough to meet the requirements of the pilot scheme, ICDS and MDM combined. This policy statement from PM will lead to a further increase in FRK production and milling capacity in a short time due to the final demand.

With this existing ecosystem, pan India expansion of rice enrichment (at 73 p / kg) can be covered in two years at a minimum cost of around 2600 cr. with a massive Rs 49,800 crore, according to FSSAI.

The country is at a crossroads and facing a public health emergency. Rice enrichment will be a potential game-changer to steer the country away from this crisis sustainably in a short time. It can play a critical complementary role in diversification, subsidies, health, nutrition and education to combat this nutritional challenge. However, the success of upscaling is based on designing better quality programs, data alliances, ongoing monitoring and evaluation, robust quality control and security and gender integration to enable freedom from hunger and malnutrition for all.

(The author is an employee of Niti Aayog)

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