Saturday, 4 June 2011

MALNUTRITION: Bangladesh: Bio-fortification: Way to fight malnutrition

Md Julfikar Islam
Renu Begum, an 18-year-old village girl gave birth to a dead child last month. At the eleventh hour of her delivery she was taken to the Thana Health Complex. Though she came out alive, the doctors could not save her child. When asked, the doctors blamed lack of zinc and calcium in the mother's body for the cause of the stillbirth. Renu's case is one of many.
According to preliminary studies by the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh ICDDR-B, seven out of 10 women in Bangladesh do not get enough zinc in their diets.
Shortage of zinc is a significant public health nutrition problem for children under five in the country that leads to a "pervasively high prevalence of stunting [low height-to-age ratio]," said Tahmeed Ahmed, the head of nutrition department and senior scientist at ICDDR-B.
At this juncture, I am so euphoric to learn that the researchers of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) is going to introduce a type of high-zinc content rice very soon that can reduce the deficiencies of zinc in human body. The process they followed to innovate this type of rice is called bio-fortification.
Bio-fortification is a method of breeding crops to increase their nutritional value. It differs from ordinary fortification, because it focuses on making plant food more nutritious as the plants grow, rather than having nutrients added to the food when it is being processed. This is an improvement on ordinary fortification when it comes to providing nutrients for the rural poor, who rarely have access to commercially fortified food stuff.
The researchers of BRRI used the selective breeding method. They tested seeds selected from hundreds of thousands of rice strains chosen for their naturally high zinc content. Then they used cross-breeding between the zinc-rich rice and widely grown rice varieties to see what takes root in Bangladesh's soil and climate.
Not only rice the other food grains like potato, sweet potato, maze and wheat also can be fortified with these micronutrients. Now it is our turn to think about this technology and implement it seriously.
Why actually this bio-fortification method is chosen to introduce zinc-rich rice? In this method the nutrients become an inseparable part of the grain. As the poor people cannot afford to eat animal products, which are naturally rich in zinc and eat only one or two varieties of food most of the time they lack proper amount of zinc.
Moreover, according to local NGO, Bangladesh Rice Foundation, more rice is consumed per person in Bangladesh than in any other country where it is considered a staple food. But the existing types of rice do not have the amount of zinc people require.
It is also important to justify the commercial viability of this zinc-rich rice. If you cannot make any product commercially profitable, the product will be out of the market within a very short time. The target market of this type of rice is rural children, women and men suffering from malnutrition. The people living in the slum areas can be the target market of this product. By enriching the quality it can also be reached to the middle-class people of the cities.
Though preliminary research and development cost can raise the price of the seed of the rice, but widespread cultivation of the rice can help reduce the price. If the market price of this seed is higher than the existing hybrid seed, farmers will be discouraged to procure it. So, here government can extend a helping hand by subsidising this special seed until the seed producers can reach a position to offer a competitive price.
Moreover, it is very important to create awareness among the risk-averse farmers about the rice that it will not need any extra effort to produce this type of rice. If the production, pricing and overall marketing of the rice is successful only then we can hope to make it sustainable and minimise the health hazards for the lack of zinc and other micronutrients.

No comments:

Post a Comment