It would provide additional micronutrients essential for the students’ physical development

Starting October this year, the of education ministry will supply fortified rice to all schools under the government’s feeding programme.

The ministry has proposed about Nu 23 million to import fortified kernels from Bangladesh, which would then be blended with raw rice in Phuentsholing. The Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd would supply the fortified rice to the schools.

The government finances school meals for 137 government schools feeding about 55,975 students in the country.

An official from the school health and nutrition division, said a variety of rice can be fortified and produced to taste, smell and look like ordinary rice with various nutrients. Fortification is the practice of deliberately increasing the content of essential micronutrients in food to improve its nutritional quality.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said this is an important initiative that the government has taken to ensure that students receive essential micronutrients in their meals for physical development.

“The fortified rice that would be supplied will address much of the micronutrient deficiency challenges we have,” Lyonpo said.

The official said blending would be done stepwise to make sure students do not taste the difference. She said the school feeding programme was initially started to encourage students to attend school and later to retain them.

“Now, the focus is on providing nutritious food and rice is a common staple for Bhutanese,” she said. “The existing rice contains all the nutrients but fortified rice would provide them additional supplement of micronutrients.”

The ministry has supplied about 1,500MT of raw and par boiled rice for 87 feeding days to schools in the first quarter. The second stock of fortified rice will be done in the second quarter.

Starting this year, fortified rice was supplied only to schools under the World Food Program (WFP) school feeding programme. The WFP supplies rice to about 171 schools in the country for about 15,810 students.

Head of WFP country office Piet Vochten, said they first imported 300 tonnes of fortified rice from Bangladesh, which is now fed in schools.

“We’ve started a contract with a private rice mill in Phuentsholing where we have provided technical support to teach them to fortify rice,” Piet Vochten said.

He said fortified kernels are reconstituted rice to which the fortified mix is added.  It is then shaped to resemble raw rice and blended with rice. The fortified rice would contain vitamins A, B1, B3, B6, B12, iron and zinc.

Piet Vochten said WFP would be phasing out of the school feeding program completely by the end of 2018. The government has been gradually taking over the programme and today supports 79 percent of the school-feeding programme.

“So the role of WFP is clearly decreasing but we see our role in providing technical support, which is still under discussion and not necessarily disappear from the country,” he said.

Yangchen C Rinzin