27 October 2016

Rice Fortification: Hiding in plain sight. Time for leadership.

One of the sessions at the Micronutrient Forum in Mexico this week was on large scale rice fortification.

Very few countries mandate large scale rice fortification and yet at least 2 billion people consume rice on a regular basis in significant quantities, with a large overlap with the billions facing deficiencies of iron, folate and B vitamins.

Rice fortification, hiding in plain sight. So, it’s a no brainer, right?

Not quite. First, as one member of the audience said, we need to make sure that those who have these deficiencies actually consume enough rice for fortification to make a difference.

Assume that is the case, then we have to generate the demand for fortified rice (as one audience member said, via push marketing to rice millers and government and via pull marketing directed to consumers).  Then we need to bundle demand to make it worth it for the supply chains to respond. Public procurement via safety nets and humanitarian interventions (e.g. the WFP) seem to offer a lot of promise too. There are technical issues, but none of them seemed any more intractable than those found in wheat fortification which is much more widespread.

What seems to me to be lacking is ambition and leadership. The Food Fortification Initiative’s Executive Director, Scott Montgomery, said we are in a chicken and egg situation: how do we cover the upfront costs to kick start demand and supply creation?  This type of initiative is made for the Decade of Action for Nutrition.  In 10 years we would want to see a large percentage of the world’s rice consumption being fortified, addressing the needs of many of anaemic women and children, and men.

We need a plan, and a group of organisations to coalesce around that. WFP and GAIN are already discussing how to do this and there are others who need to join such as the Food Fortification Initiative, MI and DSM.  These organisations need to commit their resources to this effort before going to the donors for further investment.

Fortifying rice does not seem to be prohibitively risky. We should launch a relentless effort to get it going. Now. If we did not pursue this opportunity — in a careful but aggressive way — it would be irresponsible. GAIN is committed to playing its part to work with partners in supporting all major rice producing countries to fortify their rice by 2026 — for export and for their own population’s wellbeing.

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