The Centre has started distribution of fortified rice through ration shops from April 1 in some 90-odd districts out of 291 targeted for the entire year under phase II of PM-POSHAN Abhiyan for which it has procured 90 lakh tonnes (lt) of the grain, Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said on Monday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 75th Independence Day address last year said his government was resolved to distribute fortified rice through all central government schemes by 2024 to address the issue of malnutrition among the poor. The first phase was launched in October 2021 under which fortified rice was supplied through Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman-PM POSHAN (erstwhile Mid-Day Meal Scheme).

FSSAI norms

Fortified rice is made as per the standards fixed by the food safety regulator FSSAI, which has prescribed blending rice with three micronutrients - Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12.

Over and above ICDS Centres and the PM-POSHAN requirements, the government aims to cover 291 aspirational and high burden districts in the second phase for which the estimated grain requirement will be about 175 lt a year. About 2.20 lt of such rice has already been supplied to 90 districts in 16 States during the April-May, he said.

Millers have come on board for rice fortification, as they have not only installed blenders but also upgraded their mills, Pandey said. Upgradation of mills is underway in the States for smooth implementation of the third phase as well, when the requirement will increase to 350 lt of fortified rice, he said.

Reducing costs

With the scaling up of the entire ecosystem, the cost of fortification is getting reduced, said Pandey, adding some states are getting it done at ₹0.50 per kg against a cap of ₹ 0.73 per kg. Earlier, in a presentation, the Food Ministry said malnutrition costs India at least ₹77,000 crore annually in terms of lost productivity, illness and death.

The country loses about 1 per cent of GDP (₹2.03 lakh crore) due to iron deficiency anaemia. “One rupee spent on nutritional interventions in India could generate ₹34.1-Rs 38.6 in public economic returns,” the ministry said.

On health risks associated due to consumption of fortified rice, the secretary said the benefits of rice fortification far outweigh the harmful effects.

Kapil Yadav, an associate professor in AIIMS-Delhi, said: “There are some rare risks involved, but benefits are far more. India has the highest mortality in the world due to bleeding during delivery. Rice fortification helps to offset this,” He also mentioned that food fortification is implemented in 140 countries.

Siddharth Waghulkar, deputy head (Nutrition and School Feeding unit) at United Nations World Food Programme, said the micronutrient content in fortified rice is much higher than brown or parboiled rice.