What is rice fortification that PM Modi announced in his Independence Day speech?

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In his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his government will begin rice fortification under different government schemes including Public Distribution System, Mid Day Meal among others by 2024, the Indian Express reported. The announcement made by PM Modi comes in view of large-scale malnutrition, anemia among children and women.

The number of stunted and wasted children under 5 years of age is also huge and contributes to the poor ranking of the country on the Hunger index. On the GLobal Hunger Index, India stood at 97 rank on a list of 107 countries. Since rice is distributed to the poor families along with wheat under the Public Distribution Scheme and Mid Day Meal scheme, the fortification of rice has a huge potential to make a dent to the widespread malnutrition in the country.

What is rice fortification?
According to the country’s Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), rice fortification is the process of deliberately increasing the content of micronutrients to better the nutritional quality of rice. The increase in the quantity of micronutrients in rice will make the staple food more nutritious and healthy for consumption.

While there are several technologies by which rice fortification can be undertaken including coating and dusting, extrusion is considered to be the most apt technology for rice fortification in India. Under the extrusion technique, fortified rice kernels are produced in huge quantities and mixed with the ordinary rice to produce the fortified rice.

How does extrusion technology work?
Dry rice flour of ordinary rice is mixed with a set of micronutrients and the product is mixed with water. A twin-screw extruder with several heating zones is then used to produce the rice kernels of the same size as ordinary rice. The kernels are later dried and packaged for use and mixed with ordinary rice to produce the fortified rice. It is pertinent to note that the rice kernels that are produced from the extrusion technology have a shelf life of about 12 months and are to be utilised in the same period.

What proportion of fortified rice will be mixed with ordinary rice?
As per the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, 10 gram of fortified rice kernel(frk) should be mixed with 1 KG of regular rice. The fortified rice will contain iron, folic acid, vitamin B 12, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6 in different proportions. The guidelines issued by the Ministry have also mentioned that the fortified rice kernel should resemble the ordinary rice to the maximum possible limit.

How is fortified rice cooked?
It is crucial to understand that there is no special cooking method for cooking the fortified rice. Beneficiaries of the fortified rice will simply need to wash the rice and clean it before cooking it. The emphasis on resemblance to ordinary rice will ensure that people will not even get to differentiate between the fortified kernel and ordinary rice.

Are rice mills equipped to produce fortified rice?
According to the government data quoted by the Indian Express there are 2,690 mills in the country which have the necessary blending units installed to undertake the production of fortified rice. The current capacity of production of fortified rice across a total of 14 states has gone up to 60000 tonnes from 7250 tonnes two years earlier.

Who will bear the cost of fortification?
The government has estimated that the price of rice fortification with three key nutrients namely- iron, folic acid, and vitamin B-12- will be about Rs 0.6 per kilogram and the total cost of the scheme will be borne by the central government and the state government.

Will a beneficiary be able to identify fortified rice?
Yes, the beneficiaries of the fortified rice will get rice in jute bags with the logo (‘+F’) and “Fortified with Iron, Folic Acid, and Vitamin B12” logo printed on the back. The rice which will be supplied to various government schools and Aaganwadi for the Mid Day Meal scheme will also mention the same information on the Jute bag.

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