The government plans to introduce fortified rice or 'Pushti Chaal' to help people overcome micronutrients deficiency.

The modification of regular rice with added micronutrients can eliminate the existing nutrition deficiency and ensure a better result in terms of public health, experts suggest.

A majority of Bangladesh's population suffers from the deficiency of micronutrients such as zinc, iron, folic acid and other essential vitamins.

Each 150-300 gram of Pushti Chaal contains 1.5 ppm Vitamin A, 4.0 ppm Vitamin B1, 0.01 ppm Vitamin B12, 1.3 ppm Folic Acid, 60 ppm Iron and 40 ppm Zinc.

Bangladesh, with support from World Food Programme (WFP), started the rice fortification project in 2013 after an icddr,b research showed that a large part of the population suffers from various diseases due to lack of micronutrients.

Initially, 30,000 people were provided with Pushti Chaal.

Dr Mohammad Mahbobor Rahman, Senior Programme Officer of Scaling-Up Rice Fortification Initiative, told UNB that so far two million people in 96 upazilas have experienced the positive effect of fortified rice as part of Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) project.

"Researches done by several institutes show that the use of fortified rice is much beneficial to the health of the participants in those areas," he said.

A survey by BRAC found that 32 percent consumers of fortified rice has perceived health benefits while another research carried out by icddr,b shows that consumption of fortified rice reduced anemia by 4.8 percent.

"We picked rice for bridging the nutrition gap as it's our staple food and can be made available countrywide," Dr Rahman said.

The process of fortification is fairly simple as grained white rice is made into rice flour in which essential minerals and vitamins are added. The flour is later given shape to rice kernel and then added to normal rice with a ratio of 1:100 kernels.

"The ratio of mixture is one fortified kernel of rice for 100 normal rice kernels," Dr Rahman explained.

The mixing processes are carried out by three companies currently - Igloo, Masafi Agro Foods and Star Foods. The project so far has more than 30 blending units and adequate fortified kernel factories.

The original plan was pitched by WFP back in 2013 for combating the nutrition deficiency.

WFP Deputy Country Director Alpha Bah told UNB that the organisation is currently giving its full support for scaling up rice fortification in the country.

"We're mainly providing technical assistance for the entire project," he said.

Alpha Bah said the goal is to provide fortified rice at an affordable price to all, especially the working class who are the main victims of nutrition deficiency.

At a national-level discussion on the fortified rice project, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said the government is taking measures to introduce the fortified rice in the local market soon.

Currently, the rice is being given to poor families at maximum 30 kg rice for each family.

After the initial commercial launch, Pushti Chaal will cost about Tk 3-4 more per kg compared to other rice. But the price will decrease once it gains the customers' confidence.

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