For the first time, the government has introduced micronutrient-enriched fortified rice in the country.
Once accepted by consumers, the government would consider providing the beneficiaries of different social safety net programmes with the fortified rice, officials involved in the process told The Daily Star.
Regular rice is provided through the government's social safety net, but it is now being fortified with six most essential vitamins and minerals under a pilot programme.
The fortified rice, branded as Pushti Chal in Bangla, contains vitamins A, B1 and B12, and Folic Acid, Iron and Zinc. The nutrients are powered and mixed with rice flour to form pre-mix kernels and these kernels are then mixed with regular rice in 1:100 ratio.
The ministries of Disaster Management and Relief, and Women and Children Affairs in league with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) have introduced the fortified rice in Bangladesh for an acceptability trial in two social safety net programmes -- Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) and Vulnerable Group Development (VGD).
Under this pilot programme, ultra-poor women of 3,000 households in Kurigram have already received and 6,000 more households in Satkhira will soon receive the fortified rice as part of their monthly food transfer under VGD and VGF programmes.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies account for an estimated seven percent of the global disease burden, while iron, vitamin A and zinc deficiencies rank among the top 10 leading causes of deaths due to disease in developing countries.
WFP officials said fortified rice has the same shape, colour and texture and Pushti Chal is cooked, and tastes just like normal rice.
Regular milled rice is low in micronutrients, they said, and serves primarily as a source of carbohydrate while the fortification of rice is a major opportunity to improve nutrition, especially for those who suffer from hidden hunger.
Hidden hunger is a micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiency in a person's diet. People who suffer from hidden hunger often found to have eaten enough calories but their basic diet fails to provide enough crucial vitamins and minerals vital to their mental and physical health, they explained.
"Only carbohydrate is not enough for a healthy livelihood. And ultra-poor in our country often can't afford sufficient proteins in the form of fish, meat, dairy products etc. But as rice is always there in their diet, its fortification with micronutrients will help mitigate the problem of nutrition-deficiency," Minister of State for Women and Children Affairs, Meher Afroz Chumki told this correspondent.
Under a partnership with the WFP, Swiss company DSM Nutritional Products is supporting the UN body's strategic approach to rice fortification, and is engaged in efforts in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam to include fortified rice in social safety nets, and maximise the potential of fortified rice in tackling malnutrition.
DSM Nutritional Products, which is a subsidiary of Dutch multinational Royal DSM NV, teamed up with another Swiss company --Buhler-- and established Wuxi NutriRice Co Ltd, in China in 2007 to produce the nutritionally enriched rice kernels to be mixed with regular rice.
For distribution among the safety net beneficiaries under the acceptability trial programme, the kernels are being imported from China.
Cornelia Paetz, public information officer of the WFP in Dhaka, said the kernels are mixed up with regular rice in local rice mills of Kurigram and Satkhira.
She said DSM is supplying the vitamin and mineral fortified kernels and supporting the acceptability study being conducted by Brac.
The WFP and DSM are also engaged in rice fortification in Cambodia and Vietnam, Paetz said.
Sources said that after the research on acceptability of fortified rice is done by September, detailed results of the trial are expected by the end of this year.