Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha 

Besides the government schools with a feeding programme, to meet the nutrition requirements private schools give fortified rice to students, the Food Fortification Taskforce (FFT) has recommended. 

The taskforce is also encouraging the use of fortified rice for the general public. A blending machine would be installed in Phuentsholing by mid this year to enhance production to meet the demand. 

The supply of fortified rice to schools with government’s feeding programme began in 2017. Initially, fortified rice was imported. Today, only fortified kernels are imported.  The fortified kernels are blended with rice at Phuentsholing with a modified rice mill. The fortified rice contains vitamins A, B1, B3, B6, B9, B12, iron and zinc.

According to FFT member secretary BB Rai, in late 2020, a notification was issued encouraging schools, monastic schools and the armed forces to consume fortified rice. 

This was after incidences of peripheral neuropathy (a common illness among the growing adolescents that have high nutritional demand) were reported in Gelephu in October 2020. 

The FFT also informed the schools and various institutes on the availability of fortified rice, which wasn’t used as schools remained closed due to the pandemic. 

“Some monastic schools are already using fortified rice,” BB Rai said. 

To encourage the consumption of fortified rice in Bhutan, a two-day awareness workshop on food safety and quality management ended in Punakha on April 16.

Stakeholders from schools, various departments and dzongkhag representatives attended the workshop. 

Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) head of research and development, Dinesh Subba said that the import of the blending machine from Chennai, India was delayed due to the increase in price due to inflation.

World Food Programme (WFP) and the government will provide Nu 9.25 million for the machine. 

Speaking at the workshop, nutritionist Leigden Deiz said that in Bhutan the rice fortification programme has been rationalised as a good strategy to address malnutrition. 

Malnutrition among students became a major concern with the fatal case in Orong Higher Secondary School in Samdrup Jongkhar, where two students died in December 2011. Several other students were also said to be deficient in vitamin B1 and thiamine. 

A study conducted in 2014 by the health ministry showed a high prevalence of thiamine (vitamin B1) and cobalamin (vitamin B12) deficiency among schoolchildren from specific districts in the country. 

Intake of vitamin B1, B12, vitamin A, and iron were inadequate during several study periods, and the number of schoolchildren with thiamine deficiency increased when the children were attending school.  

Anaemia remains a major public health problem with a prevalence of 44 percent among children of six to 59 months, over 35 percent among non-pregnant women and 31 percent among adolescent girls. 

According to a press release from the agriculture ministry currently, the school feeding programme consumes approximately 600MT of fortified rice annually.

The awareness programme would also be replicated for the stakeholders in the eastern central part of the country. 

The two-day workshop was organised by the agriculture ministry and WFP.