The Food Corporation of India (FCI) will distribute 17.5 million tonne (MT) of fortified rice under the public distribution system (PDS) in 291 districts in the current fiscal.
To reduce anemia and micro-nutrient deficiency among large sections of population, the government has decided to cover “aspirational and high-burden districts” ranked as per the health and socio-economic indicators developed by Niti Aayog in providing fortified rice through PDS in 2022-23.
According to food secretary Sudhanshu Pandey, in the first phase of the programme 1.7 MT of rice enriched with micronutrients such as iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 was distributed to beneficiaries under Integrated Child Development Services and Pradhan Mantri Poshan (PM Poshan).
“We are developing sufficient processing facilities to provide more than 35 MT of fortified rice to beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) by March 2024,” Pandey said.
Annual estimated cost of Rs 2,700 crore is anticipated for the fortified rice programme under NFSA by 2024. The extra outlay would be part of the central government’s food subsidy budget.
Pandey said an independent concurrent evaluation would be carried out by the Niti Aayog of the rice fortification to assess the outcomes and impact of the programme.
The cabinet committee on economic affairs in April had approved providing fortified rice to all the beneficiaries under PDS by March 2024.
Fortification of rice helps increase vitamin and mineral content in diets and helps achieve nutritional security. The government annually spends more than Rs 2 trillion for implementing NFSA.
The FCI and state government agencies procured 12.62 MT of fortified rice in 2020-21 and 2021-22 Kharif marketing season (October-September). Around 2.5 MT of nutrient enriched rice has been distributed so far.
Under the pilot scheme on ‘fortification of rice and its distribution under PDS’ launched in 2019-20, 11 states — Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand — have reported distribution of fortified rice in their identified districts.
According to a recent statement by the ministry of food and public distribution in Parliament, at present around 3,400 rice millers in the country have monthly blending capacity of around 2.8 MT. Food ministry officials said that the pilot scheme has helped create an ecosystem for fortified rice. The food ministry has also formulated standard operating procedure for the quality management protocol for fortified rice kernels.
According to a food ministry official, as per an analysis of benefits of rice fortification by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, there was an estimated savings of about `49,800 crore of the expenses incurred in the health care cost annually.
Besides, malnutrition costs the country around `77,000 crore annually in terms of loss of productivity, illness and health. FSSAI has stated that over 70% of the population consumes less than 50% of the recommended dietary allowance of micronutrients.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address on the 75th Independence Day speech in 2021, made an announcement on fortification of rice so as to provide nutrition to every poor person of the country to overcome malnutrition and lack of essential nutrients in women, children, lactating mothers etc. as it poses major obstacles in their development.