Rice fortification — A neglected tool in fighting malnutrition

by Lauren Landis, Director of Nutrition at the World Food Programme

It’s called ‘hidden hunger’ — a form of malnutrition often unnoticeable to the naked eye as the people it affects frequently don’t show any clinical symptoms. Often they aren’t even aware they have it.

Micronutrient deficiencies — a shortage of essential vitamins or minerals — may be invisible, but their impact is far from it, compromising the well-being of 2 billion people. Hidden hunger makes people susceptible to infectious diseases, impairs their physical and mental development, reduces their labour productivity and increases the risk of premature death.

Adding vitamins or minerals to commonly eaten foods, also known as food fortification, has already played a part in reducing micronutrient deficiencies over the past century, with micronutrients such as folate or iodine added to foods like flour and salt. But one staple has been largely neglected in fortification efforts: rice.

Rice fortification in India. Photo: WFP/Aditya Arya

Rice is a staple food for half the world’s population, and can contribute as much as 70 percent of daily energy intake, particularly in developing countries. Places where rice is an important contributor to the diet often happen to overlap with areas where micronutrient deficiencies are most common. Here lies an enormous opportunity. Fortifying rice has great potential to help fight hidden hunger on a large scale.

Helping the scale-up of rice fortification is becoming a key area of focus for the World Food Programme (WFP). In Bangladesh, in partnership with the Government and private sector partners, we have established a fortified rice supply chain with distribution through one of the world’s largest social safety net programmes. We also partner with the private sector and Government of India to introduce fortified rice into school meals programmes and develop fortified rice standards.

WFP partners with the Government of India to introduce fortified rice into school meals. Photo: WFP/Aditya Arya

Together with our partners, we work to deliver fortified foods to the people we serve, promote the use of locally produced fortified foods, and advocate for fortification in national and international policy.

To be sure, fortification is not a silver bullet — we’ll only eradicate hidden hunger when all people have access to adequate, varied diets, starting with local foods. But it’s a powerful instrument in the toolkit.

Words by Lauren Landis and Simone Gie.

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This video has been made possible thanks to the support of our partner DSM.