On August 15, while addressing the nation on Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that all rice distributed under different schemes across the country would be fortified by 2024. Fortifying rice is the process in which broken rice is grinded into powder, mixed with nutrients such as Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 and then shaping it into kernels that look like rice.
सरकार अपनी अलग-अलग योजनाओं के तहत जो चावल गरीबों को देती है, उसे फोर्टिफाई करेगी, गरीबों को पोषणयुक्त चावल देगी।— PMO India (@PMOIndia) August 15, 2021
राशन की दुकान पर मिलने वाला चावल हो, मिड डे मील में मिलने वाला चावल हो, वर्ष 2024 तक हर योजना के माध्यम से मिलने वाला चावल फोर्टिफाई कर दिया जाएगा: PM @narendramodi
Generally, these kernels are mixed with normal rice at a 1:100 ratio. PM Modi said every scheme, including mid-day meals and rice distributed via ration shops, would be 100% fortified. In July this year, it was reported that the government might soon announce a policy for large scale distribution of fortified rice.
Why is the fortification of rice important?
As per the data provided by the Lancet, WHO (World Health Organisation) and Save The Children, undernutrition is one of the biggest challenges India is facing. Data suggests that every second woman is anaemic, and every third child is stunted in India. Due to lack of proper nutrition, every fourth child suffers from malnutrition and every fifth child is wasted.
Reports suggest that malnutrition is the cause behind 68% of deaths in children under the age of 5. Every year, India loses around 1% of its GDP, clocking at around Rs 1.35 lakh crore due to iron deficiency anaemia. Around Rs 7,400 crores are lost in productivity, illness and death due to malnutrition.
Rising malnutrition in India
In a recent study by the Government of India titled “National Family Health Survey -5” or NFHS-5, it was revealed that there had been deterioration in stunting in 13 states, wasting in 12, anaemia among children in 18, underweight in 16 and anaemia among pregnant women in 13 states compared to NFHS-4. The situation might have deteriorated further during and post-pandemic; thus, there was an immediate need for intervention from the government.
Solution to malnutrition
Along with dietary diversification, supplementation and bio-fortification, food fortification can play a vital role in combating malnutrition in the country. Rice is considered to be the ideal vehicle for supplying micronutrients in India, as 65% of its population consumes rice as a staple food. Fortified rice with Iron Folic acid and Vit B12 with a shelf life of around 1.5 years is a much viable option compared to bio-fortification. WHO reports suggest fortified rice can reduce the risk of iron deficiency by 35%.
As PDS (Public Distribution System) covers almost 81 crore people and supplies 350 LMT of rice per year, fortification of all rice would provide essential nutrients to all beneficiaries.
Benefits of fortification on economy and health
According to FSSAI, GDP gain by supplying fortified rice would be around Rs 49,800 crore. Over the next five years, Rs 8098 crores would be saved for Women of Reproductive Age (WRA).
According to reports, Gadchiroli, Maharashtra has been able to reduce anaemia by 10%. By supplying fortified rice in Gajapati, Odisha, anaemia has been reduced by 6%. In Bangaluru, Karnataka, anaemia has been reduced from 61% to 39%.
Rice fortification ecosystem in India
In the last year, central and state governments are making consistent efforts to establish an ecosystem for the distribution of fortified rice. Several schemes have been introduced since 2019-2020 for a period of three years. The government has also established standards for fortified rice through a regulatory agency such as FSSAI.
Several partnerships with research and academic institutes, including IITs-Kharagpur & Madras, CFTRI, ICMR, Stanford University, UC Berkley, Emory University, and development partners such as WFP, PATH, TATA Trust, Nutrition International have been established by the government.
Reportedly, six states have already started the distribution of fortified rice, and four more would start by September 2021. Data suggests the government has distributed 2.03 LMT fortified rice till June 2021. It has been proposed that 250 high burden districts should be covered from April 1, 2022.
With the efforts made by the Government of India, the production of Fortified Rice Kernel (FRK) has increased from 7.250 MY to 60,000 MT in the last two years. Around 2,690 rice mills have already installed blending units for the production of fortified rice.