IAS Gyan

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It is a long journey to distribute fortified rice at government schools

8th November, 2020 Poverty and Hunger

Context: They say there is need to bring millers and snack manufacturers on board and improve quality control

  • Experts warn that a long journey lies ahead to implement distribution of fortified rice at government schools and anganwadi centres in 15 States as there is need to bring millers and snack manufacturers on board and improve quality control.
  • However, some are also wary of its nutritional outcomes and caution that fortification of staples such as cereals may hurt local economies.
  • The government announced earlier this week its plans to expand supply of rice fortified with iron, vitamin B-12 and folic acid on pilot basis from 15 districts to 15 States with the aim to curb anaemia.
  • Fortified rice can provide 30-50% of the recommended dietary allowance of iron that adults need to consume daily, based on average Indian consumption.

Baseline studies

  • Trials in a controlled setting, giving 100% RDA of iron through tablets, have shown results within ten months.
  • However, in a programmatic setting, with fortified rice, a minimum of 24 months of constant exposure is needed before we can see the impact.
  • The immediate next step requires convincing food manufacturers to use the extrusion machines now used to make snacks such as kurkure or dried pasta shapes to also make fortified rice kernels, enriched with iron and other nutrients.

Role of millers

  • The other immediate step is bringing the country’s 28,000 rice millers on board, to install blending machines which can mix the fortified kernels into the normal rice in a 1:100 ratio.
  • Millers will have to make the immediate investment, but the government may offer loans or other incentives to create an enabling environment.
  • They are also being promised good return on investment.
  • Since the fortified kernels look and taste the same as normal rice grains, there is also an urgent need for quality control to ensure that consumers are not being cheated.
  • Most important step in the long-term will be to create awareness about the benefits of fortified foods to ensure uptake.
  • In order to take it to scale there is a need to create demand for fortified rice by ensuring that it is integrated in our food system and implemented in the open market.
  • Its distribution should not just be limited to social feeding programmes such as Mid Day Meals for government schools and anganwadi beneficiaries but expanded beyond by building on the successes of salt iodisation programme.

Adverse consequences

  • Some public health experts also warn of adverse consequences of “the corporatisation of the food system” by insisting on processes that demand a centralisation of food supplies.
  • “Local economies should be protected by decentralising procurement and distribution.
  • Since the impact on anaemia through fortification remains poorly evidenced, such processes may do more harm than good.
  • Micronutrient supplementation can be achieved by many other means, including diversification of diets and providing better quality meals, as well as through supplements that don’t further centralise food systems.