The initiative, spearheaded by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in partnership with Bangladesh's Ministry of Food and Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, aims to reduce the prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies among Bangladeshis by providing them with nutrient-rich fortified rice.
Last year, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs managed to distribute fortified rice in 35 sub-districts through the country's biggest social safety net for women living in abject poverty, known as the Vulnerable Group Development programme.
According to a press release, the ministry plans to up the number of distribution sub-districts to 66 this year. In addition, the Ministry of Food will integrate the distribution of fortified rice in two sub-districts, under the Food Friendly programme.
This will see over 350,000 people in 107 sub-districts receive fortified rice.
Women most in need
WFP representative and country director in Bangladesh, Christa Räder, said: "Through a rice fortification effectiveness study, we found that the consumption of fortified rice reduced anaemia by 4.8% and zinc deficiency by 6% among ultra-poor women.
"We want to make fortified rice available in the market so that the entire population of Bangladesh can benefit from it."
Jeroen Steeghs, Chargé d'affaires of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bangladesh, concurred, adding: "Rice fortification is very effective in improving the nutritional status of people, especially ultra-poor women.
"Our ultimate goal is that fortified rice will be commercially available in the market. For this, we need the government of Bangladesh to create the necessary enabling environment."
A large-scale solution?
The WFP is confident that fortified rice intake will help to minimise micronutrient deficiencies — which affect physical and cognitive health to a great extent — and therefore, bring Bangladesh closer to meeting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
Furthermore, since rice fortification results in instant, ready-to-consume products, it can help to tackle micronutrient deficiencies on a large scale.
Unlike unfortified rice, fortified rice kernels contain six essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B1 and B12, as well as folic acid, iron and zinc; these are mixed with regular rice at a 1:100 ratio.
Micronutrient deficiency has been a longstanding issue in Bangladesh, with women and young children at a distinct disadvantage. Along with India and Pakistan, it is one of the South Asian countries where food fortification efforts have been growing in recent years.