PHNOM PENH – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is organizing a two-day technical training this week on rice fortification to support the development of in-country fortification capacity - in partnership with Green Trade and the Cambodia Rice Federation. Food fortification is the addition of important micronutrients to foods, like rice, to enhance its nutritional value safely and cost-effectively. While the fortification of salt, fish sauce, and soy sauce with iodine and/or folate has been practiced for a number of years in Cambodia, rice fortification is still relatively new to the country. In fact, it was with the support of WFP that fortified rice was first introduced in the national school feeding programme.
Production managers from 15 commercial rice mills are participating in the training, which will use a hands-on approach to demonstrate the blending process, equipment installation and operation, and quality assurance and control.
“This training is a step forward in support of the national agenda on food fortification and responds to recommendations from the 2021 Food Systems Dialogue on commercializing fortified foods,” said H.E. Sok Silo, Secretary General of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development.
“I believe it is a key step to unlock the nutrition issue in the country, where a majority of the population eats a large portion of rice on a daily basis,” added H.E. Sok Silo, emphasizing that Cambodia falls amongst the countries with the highest levels of rice consumption in the region.
Though the regular white rice that is commonly consumed in Cambodia is a good source of energy, it lacks critical micronutrients like vitamin A, iron, and calcium that are prevalent in other foods like fruits and vegetables. As a result, many Cambodians are affected by micronutrient deficiencies, which can impact health, productivity, and learning capacity.
A study on the economic consequences of malnutrition in Cambodia found that the cost related to malnutrition ranges between US$250 and US$400 million annually, of which over US$134 million is lost to micronutrient deficiencies alone.
“The addition of vitamins or minerals to rice safely improves its nutritional quality and can be an effective way to fight micronutrient deficiencies among the poor without a need to change their food habits and taste,” said H.E. Mam Borath, Director of Nutrition Improvement Department of the Ministry of Planning, quoting a 2017 study by WFP that one fifth of Cambodian households cannot afford the least expensive adequate nutritious diet.
Since 2010, WFP has been a leading partner to the government on rice fortification. Early acceptability studies showed that fortified rice was well-liked by teachers, parents, and school children around the country. Later, a randomized control trial with over 9,000 school children confirmed the positive impacts of fortified rice in improving the health and cognitive performance of children in rural districts.
As a result, the government approved the use of fortified rice in the school meal programme in 2016. Three years later, WFP and Green Trade carried out the first in-country blending of fortified rice, which proved successful, and paved the way for the current work supporting national rice millers to take on the blending process.
“We congratulate the government for its partnership and support of this innovation. We are now at a stage in which we can scale up and ensure sustainable supplies of fortified rice in the country. We also thank the United States Department for Agriculture and DSM for their generous contributions, which have made this possible,” said Claire Conan, WFP Representative and Country Director.
“By leveraging the use of fortified rice, we can ensure that nutritious foods can be afforded by everyone, particularly the poor and vulnerable, and help overcome malnutrition across the country, especially amongst women, children and lactating mothers,” Conan noted.