The Dutch embassy in Bangladesh has donated $800,000 to support a rice fortification initiative directed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in partnership with the Bangladesh Ministry of Food (MoF) and Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA).

The aim of the initiative is to provide citizens with nutrient-rich fortified rice in order to combat widespread micronutrient deficiencies. Fortified rice contains six vitamins and minerals essential for good nutrition, including vitamin A, B1 and B12, folic acid, iron, and zinc.  In a standard pack of rice distributed, the ratio of fortified to unfortified rice kernels is 1:100.

In 2017, MoWCA distributed the nutrient-rich rice mix to 35 sub-districts under the Vulnerable Group Development programme, the nation’s largest welfare project for women living in absolute poverty. The ministry plans to increase the number of sub-districts reached to 66 in 2018. MoF will also distribute fortified rice to two more areas through the Food Friendly programme. In total, more than 350,000 people in 107 sub-districts will have access to fortified rice.

Embassy of the Netherlands in Bangladesh chargé d’affaires Jeroen Steeghs said of the contribution:  “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.”​

WFP conducted a study showing that fortified rice helped to reduce micronutrient deficiencies.

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.”

The programme aims to tackle micronutrient deficiencies on a large scale and improve the physical and cognitive health of recipients, bringing Bangladesh in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, according to WFP. Food fortification efforts in South Asian countries have been increasing in an attempt to improve the health of women and young children in particular.