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Promoting Nutrition Security in India

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KMS KhalsaA new Centrally-sponsored pilot scheme on fortification of rice and its distribution under Public Distribution System has been approved by the Department of Food & Public Distribution. Based on the experience and learnings gained from these pilot projects, the distribution of fortified rice will be scaled up to tackle prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in India, writes KMS Khalsa, Deputy Secretary (BP), Department of Food & Public Distribution, Government of India.

Malnutrition manifests itself in many forms–deficiencies or excesses of macronutrient and micronutrients. Micronutrient or vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect more than two billion people worldwide and are especially prevalent in developing countries, including India.

Unlike the gnawing hunger that results from going without food, the deficiencies of vitamins and minerals often goes unnoticed. Hence, it is also referred to as ‘hidden hunger’. Although hidden hunger rarely shows visible signs, its consequences are long lasting and devastating around the world, pregnant women and children under 5 years of age are at the highest risk of micronutrient deficiencies.

India is home to about 60 percent of anaemic preschool children, 50 percent of anaemic pregnant women, and quarter of anaemic men. Anemia is pervasive and continues to exist across the population, income quintiles and age groups. Daily intake of micronutrients as against the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) reflects a gap for most micronutrinets for all age-groups and both sexes.

Known strategies to address anaemia and micronutrient malnutrition include dietary diversification, food fortification, nutrition and health education, supplementation and public health measures. Food fortification has been used globally as a safe and effective measure to prevent micronutrient malnutrition in the vulnerable population.

In India, rice fortification has the highest potential in staple food fortification programmes as it is the staple food of 65 percent of the population and reaches the most vulnerable sections. Rice has the highest uptake in the government safety net programmes such as, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Public Distribution System (PDS), and the Mid Day Meal (MDM) programme with a potential reach of about 800 million vulnerable people in India, especially women and children.

Annual distribution of rice through Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), Mid Day Meal (MDM) and Integrating Child Development Scheme (ICDS) amounts to more than 316 lakh tonnes, 18 lakh tonnes and 5 lakh tonens respectively. Department of Food & Public Distribution (DFPD) is primarily concerned with promoting food security at the household level; however, DFPD is now trying to explore the possibility and feasibility to support the ongoing efforts by different Ministries in promoting nutrition security in the country, especially through fortification of foodgrains distributed through Public Distribution System (PDS).

The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has already finalized the standards for fortification of five staples – wheat (flour), rice, milk, (double fortification of) salt and edible oil. These standards have been operationalized with effect from 16th October 2016. The final regulations on Food Fortification have now been notified in the Gazette of India dated 2nd August, 2018. It is against this backdrop, that a new Centrally-sponsored pilot scheme on fortification of rice and its distribution under Public Distribution System has been approved by Department of Food & Public Distribution. The Pilot Scheme has been approved for a period of three years beginning 2019-20. The objective of this scheme is to start pilot projects in States and Union Territories with large rice consumption (in districts with prevalence of micronutrient deficiency) and sufficient milling capacity. Based on the experience and learnings gained from these pilot projects, the distribution of fortified rice will be scaled up. The key objectives of the scheme are listed below:

  1. Distribution of fortified rice through Public Distribution System, in one district each in a State/UT selected by States/UTs (to begin with subject to a maximum of 15 Districts) to address anemia and micronutrient deficiencies.
  2. Coverage of all NFSA beneficiaries under the PDS with fortified rice in the selected districts.
  3. Facilitate cross-learning and sharing of best practices among States/UTs and DFPD.
  4. An important Objective would be to evaluate the provision, coverage, and utilisation of fortified rice by the target population as well as the efficacy/effectiveness of the consumption of fortified rice in reducing the targeted micronutrient deficiencies in different age and gender groups.

For purposes of systemic efficiencies and cost effectiveness, the blending of the fortified rice kernels with the rice will take place as a continuous process during the rice milling stage. Government of India will extend a financial support to the tune of 90% in respect of North Eastern, Hilly and Island States and 75% in respect of other States/UTs. The outcomes of the pilot scheme are in consonance with the goal of Poshan Abhiyaan which is committee to reduce stunting, under-nutrition, anaemia (among young children, women and adolescent girls) and low birth weight by 2 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent and 2 percent per annum respectively.

To address the nutrition and food security challenges in India and to ensure that vulnerable groups are not left behind, Government of India has undertaken a number of reforms in Public Distribution System to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the safety nets under NFSA.

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