Bio-fortified zinc rice to ensure nutritional security

Published : 29 Oct 2022 08:54 PM

Micronutrients play a major role in kee­ping human body active and functional. More than 2 billion people in the world are suffering from micronutrient deficiencies. Such deficiencies increase morbidity and mortality rate across the lifespan and can impair physical growth and cognitive development. 

In Bangladesh, micronutrient deficiencies are common especially among children and women. They are suffering from micronutrient deficiencies particularly – Vitamin A, Iron, Iodine, and Zinc. Every year, Bangladesh loses over $700 million in GDP to mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

Micronutrient malnutrition has long-ranging effects on health, learning ability and productivity, which in turn have high social and public cost consequences. For example, Zinc alone increases the risk of  Diarrhoea in young children by 33 per cent, Pneumonia by 69 per cent, and Malaria by 56 per cent .

The National Micronutrients Status Survey (NMSS) 2011-2012 provided data on Zinc status in the selected populations for the first time in Bangladesh. The national prevalence data on zinc deficiency was 44.6 per cent in preschool age children (Pre-SAC) and 57.3 per cent in the non-pregnant and non-lactating (NPNL) women, while the prevalence was 66.4 per cent in the slum. However, the preliminary report of NMSS  2019-20 in Bangladesh revealed that Zinc deficiencies among Pre-SAC and NPNL women is 32.5 per cent and 45.5 per cent respectively.

Zinc deficiencies is a public heath concern. So, time has come to focus on Zinc as an essential and important micronutrient. Zinc is not stored in the body. So, it is important to regularly consume food that is rich in Zinc. Rice being the staple food, is the principal source of protein and minerals in the diet of Bangladeshi people. The People of Bangladesh consume almost 70% of their diet as rice. With the development of technology and considering the preference of the consumers rice is being processed in the Rice Mills using modern technology and make the rice highly glazed by removing the outer layer i.e., bran even some portion of endosperm - starch. As a result, highly polished rice removes almost all nutritional values – such as vitamins & minerals. On the other hand, poor people cannot afford to buy fish, meat, milk, fruits, and vegetable which are the other major sources of micronutrient. As such poor people are suffering from micronutrient deficiencies. Improving nutrition can have a significant impact on survival as well as physical and cognitive growth and productivity. Good nutrition, comprising adequate quality and quantity of food intake and reduction of illness is also a basic human right and is an essential input for economic development.

To address the micronutrient deficiencies of the people, the GOB has developed different policies and strategies for inclusion of food fortification including bio-fortification. Biofortified Zinc paddy is successfully made field trial and lessons learned with active support from HarvestPlus. HarvestPlus joined hands with Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and others to promote cultivation and consumption of bio-fortified zinc rice through commercialization of bio-fortified crops (CBC) project. Till now, as many as 11 varieties of bio-fortified Zinc Rice (BZR) have been developed by BRRI, BINA and BSMRAU. 

 BRRI dhan74 is a coarse variety and price wise it matches with the government declared procurement price. Ministry of Food has already included, from the current Boro procurement season 2021-2022, procurement of biofortified zinc paddy (BRRI dhan74) and its rice through internal procurement policy from five districts and these are: i) Bhola, ii) Barisal, iii) Thakurgaon, iv) Gaibandha, and v) Rangpur where concentration of production of BRRI dhan74 is accessible. 

Due to lack of awareness among the farmers, consumers, and value chain actors BRRI dhan74 mix-up with other coarse varieties of paddy during marketing. Also, no segregated supply chain currently exists to support its processing and distribution.

Farmers should be encouraged to cultivate bio-fortified BRRI dhan74 so that government can buy Zinc bio-fortified rice through internal procurement system. Demand should be created through awareness programme so that consumers become aware about the benefits of Zinc rice. The ministries concerned should create demand of bio-fortified rice for their safety net programmes such as school feeding programme, VGD, etc. DAE should identify two/three varieties of bio-fortified zinc rice taking into consideration of agronomic competitiveness so that farmers are benefitted and micronutrient need of the poor people who cannot afford to consume costly food rich in zinc micronutrient is fulfilled. 

A. K. M. Nurul Afsar is DG Food (Retd) & Advisor, Commercialization of Biofortified Crops (CBC) Project Global Alliance for Improved 

Nutrition (GAIN)/GORAI