Rice fortification as a contribution to combat malnutrition

By Bruno Kistner
ARoFIIN Secretariat 

Following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the United Nations (UN), the world has made advancements toward the elimination of hunger; however, malnutrition rates have only improved marginally, meaning that the whole segment of hidden hunger – having enough food but no access to food variety, as well as the consequences of micronutrient deficiency – still results in stunting and wasting. Most devastating is malnutrition in the first 1,000 days of a person’s life – from the point of conception to 2 years of age – that results in impaired mental capacity, stunting and wasting as a result of undernutrition, or obesity as a form of over-nutrition. This is often referred to as the double burden of malnutrition. Stunting in key Asian economies such as Indonesia, India and the Philippines affect as many as 30 per cent of all children in each country. 

Ideally, people should get their nutrients via dietary diversity, from a well-balanced food portfolio. Because a healthy, balanced diet can be rather costly, another way to improve nutrition – from the food production stage – is to provide more micronutrients through food fortification. This is the deliberate addition of essential micronutrients to food. In the words of The World Bank, “Probably no other technology available today offers as large an opportunity to improve lives and accelerate development at such low cost and in such a short time”.

Food fortification is well-established in the areas of flour, oils and fats, and is mandated in many countries. The fortification of rice had typically posed a technical challenge, which, only in recent years, has been tackled through the development of the hot extrusion method.



What do you see? Rice? No, this is pure innovation: One in a hundred rice kernels has been extruded, and each one carries up to 50 per cent of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended daily allowance of essential nutrients per serving. Rice fortification in the past was often considered a failure if the fortified kernel had an odd colour or shape – the beneficiary would spot such a kernel and throw it away. Through the hot extrusion method, the extruded kernel can be copied so that the fortified kernel is invisible. Furthermore, this method does not change the taste of the rice.



Data Source: Wuxi Nutririce Co. LTD

If a person lacks access to food variety, it is important that a balanced nutrient portfolio is delivered. Nature provides the B vitamins in the hull of rice and wheat kernels. Apart from single deficiency diseases like Beri-Beri and Pellagra, B vitamins are responsible for “proper messaging” in the human body, so it is important to reconstitute flour and rice with what is lost through milling. All B vitamins, plus other essential micronutrients like Vitamin A, iron and zinc, can be delivered though rice fortification.



Data Source: Wuxi Nutririce Co. LTD

What is the cost?

Although an extruder is relatively expensive, it makes perfect business sense for a large rice mill to install one, for these reasons:

1. Broken rice kernels can be changed into whole ones, and can be sold at a higher price.

2. Fortifying part of a production offers business opportunities by adding a unique nutrition
message to a branded rice product, thus providing a competitive edge.

3. Fortified kernels can be used in public health interventions as a tool to combat malnutrition, and
be offered to the UN for feeding programmes.

4. There is a return on investment after approximately four years. The additional cost per ton of rice
in a large production scenario averages between 2 and 5 per cent.


Conclusion

Rice fortification offers huge opportunities, both for the industry, as well as for governments. Fortifying rice would create an important contribution toward the reduction of malnutrition rates. On a national level, every dollar invested in nutrition gives a return that is 16 times the cost of investment.

Although adopting rice fortification technology for small millers will be a challenge, governments could make the method attractive through positive taxation. For the industry, it can be a marketing tool, as well as an opportunity for corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. It is, however, important that the right technology is used and that a well-balanced nutrient portfolio is added. Affordable food fortification technology that is not effective is considered expensive.

The effectiveness of hot extruded rice kernels in improving human health has been documented in intervention trials in China and India, by Sight and Life.

For more information, please contact Bruno Kistner at secretariat@arofiin.org.

Published on 20 Jan 2017