151 districts in 24 states lifted fortified rice the government has said, adding that the number of rice mills having blending infrastructure for fortified rice increased from 2,690 to 9,000 within a year.
A total of 151 districts across 24 states have already lifted fortified rice under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in Phase II of Rice Fortification Programme, the union ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution announced through a press release on Thursday. This accounts for 52 per cent of the districts lifting fortified foodgrains in the second phase of the food fortification programme.
Nearly 6.83 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) have been distributed by the states and union territories under the phase beginning 1 April 2022. Nearly 7.36 LMT have been lifted by the states and union territories under the ICDS and PM POSHAN schemes so far.
The government has argued that fortification of rice is found to be a cost-effective and complementary strategy to increase vitamin and mineral content in diets with low turnaround time and a step towards nutritional security and helps in fighting anaemia and malnutrition in the country and that this strategy is implemented in many geographies in the world.
However, food rights groups have demanded a stop to the distribution of fortified rice in the absence of an independent evaluation. They have argued that better results can be achieved by diversifying the food basket. Many food rights activists have argued for access to land and forests to the targeted population, who incidentally also happen to be the groups being targeted by the government’s rice fortification programme. Access to food from land ownership and access to forests and other traditional sources of food will ensure nutrition security and help in the fight against anaemia and malnutrition, they say.
In his address on Independence Day last year, prime minister Narendra Modi had announced the supply of fortified rice in every government scheme in a phased manner by 2024. The initiative has made good progress during the last one year, the government has claimed.
Phase-I covering ICDS and PM POSHAN had been implemented during 2021-22 and nearly 17.51 LMT had been distributed in the targeted states and union territories.
At the time of the prime minister’s announcement, there were 2,690 rice mills with blending infrastructure with a cumulative blending capacity of around 13.67 LMT in the country. This number now exceeds 9000 rice mills across the country that have an installed blending infrastructure for producing more than four times the amount of fortified rice produced last year. The present cumulative monthly production capacity is around 60 LMT.
Phase-II includes all districts covered under phase I as well as all aspirational districts and high burden districts (291 districts) under targeted public distribution system and other welfare schemes in all the states and union territories that will be covered by March, 2023, distributing a total quantity of about 175 LMT of fortified rice.
The ministry press release says that compared to last year’s cumulative annual fortified rice kernel (FRK) manufacturing capacity of 0.9 LMT, this year’s manufacturing capacity has swelled by four times to 3.5 LMT. FCI and state agencies have been procuring fortified rice since 2020-21 and nearly 145.93 LMT of fortified rice have been procured so far.
Simultaneously, NABL accredited labs for testing of fortificants have been increased to 30 from 20 in August, 2021.
FSSAI the regulatory/licensing authority for food fortification, has drafted standards for fortified rice kernels (FRK), pre-mix and provided the direction to all the stakeholders for operationalization of draft standards with immediate effect. The Bureau of Indian Standards has also notified the standards for FRK, pre-mix (vitamins and minerals) and machineries (Blenders, Extruders and other allied machineries etc.) to be used in the production of fortified rice.
The ministry also said that NITI Aayog is also working with the Indian Council of Medical Research, the National Institute of Nutrition and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare besides other stakeholders for concurrent evaluation on impact of rice fortification initiative and efforts are being made to educate the public about the nutritional benefits of fortified rice through IEC campaigns, involving FSSAI, experts and development partners.