Nutrition:  In an effort to tackle micronutrient deficiencies in children, a more nutritious rice could hit the schools in the future.

That is if the government can complete the micronutrient needs survey, analyse the safety limits of the nutrients, and have policies on fortified foods.

Health ministry’s nutritionist, Kesang Meto said several outbreaks of peripheral neuropathy were reported since 1998. In December 2011, 2 students died and 34 more of Orong HSS in Samdrupjongkhar were admitted to hospital with suspected Beriberi, a condition of acute vitamin B1 or Thiamin shortage.

“They responded to thiamine treatment, their dietary analysis showed inadequate Vitamin B, and borderline B1 despite supplementation,” she said.

The public health department’s study following the incident recommended agriculture ministry to consider fortifying foods with micronutrients to provide adequate levels of micronutrients in the diet of the school children.

World Food Programme’s regional nutrition specialist, Jennifer Rosenzweig said fortification of staple foods is a safe, cost-effective and sustainable intervention, which can have significant public health impact.

“Fortifying rice has a potential to reduce micronutrient deficiencies,” she said.

“Multi-micronutrient formula including iron, zinc, folic acid, other B vitamins, vitamin A, E and selenium can be used to fortify rice.”

She said rice fortification is an effective strategy in areas where it is consumed widely. Any variety of rice can be fortified and produced to taste, smell and look like ordinary rice with various nutrients.

Bangladesh officials shared about the successes of rice fortification programmes in their school feeding schemes.

WFP’s support to school feeding programme since 1974 ends in 2018.

Piet Vochten said, “To enable the Bhutanese government to continue delivering a world class school feeding programme, WFP is currently engaged in a comprehensive capacity development programme.”

Agriculture officials said that the fortified rice has both opportunities and challenges. “We’ll have to have more discussion on the subject before implementation,” agriculture official said.

Tshering Palden