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Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet approved a scheme to distribute fortified rice under various government-run food programmes. Fortified rice contains several micronutrients such as iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12. The aim is to tackle widespread malnutrition and anaemia among women and children in a country of over 1.3 billion people. 

The government has an ambitious goal goal The Financial Express Fortified rice supplies via PDS to cost govt Rs 2,700 crore annually Read more — to fortify all of the 35 million metric tonnes (MT) of rice that flows through its public distribution system (PDS) for a heavily subsidised Rs 3 (US$0.04) per kilo by 2024. This will come at a cost of Rs 2,700 crore (~US$350 million) per year. Modi had first announced the scheme during his speech on India’s Independence Day in August last year. 

That was, however, the easy part. Fortifying rice is a complex process involving adding 10 grams of micronutrient-packed fortified rice kernels (FRK) to every kilo of regular rice.

And here’s the kicker: India is dependent on China for sourcing both the micronutrient powder raw material and the extrusion machines extrusion machines Extrusion Machines Extrusion machines force or pull unformed material into alignment guides and shaped dies to produce lengths of stock forms and cross-sectional shapes used to produce FRK. The same China with which the Modi government has had a fractious relationship since mid-2020, when a border skirmish in the Himalayas killed 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese soldiers. India has since banned dozens of Chinese-owned apps and disrupted several imports from its neighbour. 

The China conundrum is just one part of the problem. The Indian government is struggling to get a grip on the scheme, which is riddled with supply chain management issues. A pilot project launched in 2019-20 meant for 15 districts across as many states eventually reached only 11 of them. 

“There were several challenges along the way, most importantly the logistics,” said Sudhanshu Pandey, secretary at the Department of Food and Public Distribution. Storage and transportation of the fortified rice to districts around the country from a central facility was challenging, added Pandey. As a result, the impact of fortified rice in lowering anaemia levels could not be evaluated in a timely manner during the pilot.

The government then roped in its public policy think tank NITI Aayog last year to do a third-party assessment. But several sources working on the fortification told The Ken that NITI Aayog’s report has yet not been made public, even as the government last month expanded the roll-out to 250 districts. 

AUTHOR

Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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