Across India, marginalised and vulnerable communities have limited access to nutritious food because of their socio-economic conditions. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are linked to birth defects, as well as diseases such as night blindness, goitre and anaemia. State governments, therefore, are looking seriously into initiatives that can improve population health indices.
In Andhra Pradesh, for instance, the state government’s fact sheet discloses that vitamin and mineral deficiencies linked to birth defects are found in nearly 60 per cent of children between the ages of six months and five years, while 53 per cent of pregnant women across the state suffer from anaemia and micronutrient deficiencies. Food fortification is an efficient way to deliver nutrients across a wide population.
The Tata Trusts’ rice fortification initiative
The Tata Trusts have been advocating, planning and implementing food fortification initiatives across India. Rice is the staple food of millions in India, and Andhra Pradesh is no exception. The Trusts’ rice fortification initiative attempts to correct diet deficiencies by adding micronutrients to rice that are lost during the milling and polishing processes.
In collaboration with the Government of Andhra Pradesh, the Trusts initiated the distribution of fortified rice in government safety-net programmes such as mid-day meals (MDM) and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
Fortified rice kernels (FRKs) are produced using extrusion technology and made with rice flour and micronutrients such as iron, zinc, Vitamin A, folic acid, thiamine and other vitamins. Blended with regular rice in a ratio of 1:100, the result is a product that is identical to regular rice in aroma, taste and texture. “That wasn’t an easy task,” says Sandesh Kotte from the Trusts’ nutrition team in Andhra Pradesh. “But fortified rice is an innovative and cost-effective strategy to deliver micronutrients to vulnerable communities with high rice consumption.”
In the Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Residential Education Institutions Society (APSWREIS) in Amaravati, one of the institutions where traditional rice was replaced with fortified rice as part of the mid-day meal, some early benefits were visible. “We have observed children are eating fuller meals without wasting food,” says Padmaja Kanaparthi, Principal, APSWREIS, Amaravati, of the changes observed after the introduction of fortified rice. “It is a sign that the children like the fortified rice. We have also witnessed significant improvement in terms of the children’s health after consuming fortified rice.”
The fortified rice was also distributed in the anganwadi centres in the West Godavari and Krishna districts of Andhra Pradesh to benefit children and expectant mothers who avail of their services.
“Fortified rice was a relatively new concept for the mothers, and Initially, there was a bit of scepticism and resistance from them. They expressed very little interest in consuming the product as they were unaware of its benefits,” says K Santha Kumari, an anganwadi worker from Rajiv Nagar, Krishna district. By conducting a number of awareness activities, she was able to convince them to shift from normal rice to nutrient rich fortified rice. “For the last 18 months, both children and expectant mothers have been taking fortified rice as part of their meals and looking healthy, which is a good sign,” she says.
An innovative model
Earlier, rice fortification programmes relied on batch blending technology to blend FRKs with regular rice. This called for high capex. Implementing agencies in other states had to invest heavily in pilot rice fortification programmes. It was difficult to scale up rice fortification across the rice mills in the state.
What was needed was a blending model that was both reliable and affordable. In Andhra Pradesh, the Trusts and their technical partner Sight and Life introduced an efficient and low-cost blending system known as continuous blending technology, which does not require any changes in the set-up of rice mills.
This model is extremely affordable and easy to implement. It does not require the installation of costly blenders; the rice mills already have the equipment to achieve the required homogeneity (>80 %). It is also adaptable and can be undertaken at any mill with a medium capacity of four to six million tonnes (MT) an hour capacity. Since the blending is continuous, it is also easier to scale up, unlike batch blending where the capacity of the blending is limited by the capacity of the blender.
Using the continuous blending technology, the Trusts have helped produce 26,000 MTs of fortified rice that has benefitted 800,000 people across the Krishna and West Godavari districts in the state. Nine rice mills in Krishna and West Godavari district have adopted this innovative technology to produce fortified rice, enabling the Trusts to showcase a cost-effective replicable model for scaling up rice fortification efforts in other parts of Andhra Pradesh. In fact, the state government has also adopted the continuous blending technology for their pilot PDS project in Vizianagaram district, which has since produced 30,000 MT of fortified rice.
The continuous blending technology model has also led to a significant drop in the expenditure to produce fortified rice, and consequently, reduced the burden on the government exchequer. The project also helps meet UN sustainability development goals of no poverty, zero hunger and good health and well-being.