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Effect of Bio-fortified Zinc Rice on household food, nutrition security of poor people

Humayun Kobir
19 May 2024 20:12:22 | Update: 19 May 2024 20:12:22
Effect of Bio-fortified Zinc Rice on household food, nutrition security of poor people
— Courtesy Photo

Micronutrients play a major role in keeping the human body active and functional.  Zinc deficiency is a major public health concern in low- and middle-income countries and is associated with higher child morbidity and mortality.

Such deficiencies increase morbidity and mortality rates across the lifespan and can impair growth and cognitive development. In Bangladesh, where rice is the main staple food, the risk of inadequate zinc intake is high, due to the low zinc content of white polished rice.

Micronutrient deficiencies are common, especially among children and women. It is more highly seen in rural people in Bangladesh. Zinc alone increases the risk of Diarrhoea in young children by 33 per cent. The prevalence of zinc deficiency and stunting in preschool-age children of poor people in Bangladesh is 45 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively.

Preschool-aged children of poor people are at high risk of zinc deficiency because their zinc requirement is increased by growth. Zinc is not stored in the body. So, it is important to regularly consume food that is rich in zinc. The people of Bangladesh consume almost 70 per cent of their diet as rice.

With the development of technology and considering the preference of the consumers rice is being processed in the Rice Mills using modern technology and making the rice highly glazed by removing the outer layer i.e., bran even some portion of endosperm starch. As a result, highly polished rice removes almost all nutritional values such as vitamins and minerals.

On the other hand, rural people especially poor people cannot afford to buy fish, meat, milk, fruits and vegetables regularly which are the other major sources of micronutrients.

As such rural people are suffering from micronutrient deficiencies. Zinc biofortification could be a sustainable approach to combat zinc deficiency for household food and nutrition security.

The bioavailability of Bio-fortified Zinc Rice (BZR) is similar to rice fortified with zinc before consumption. Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) have developed BZR varieties with 28 ppm zinc polished rice.

What is Bio-fortified Rice?

Bio-fortification of staple crops such as rice is intended as a sustainable, cost-effective and food-based means of delivering target micronutrients to populations who do not have access to or cannot afford diverse diets and other existing interventions such as fortified foods and supplementation. 

It is the process by which the nutrient density of rice crops is increased through conventional plant breeding, and/or improved agronomic practices and/or modern biotechnology without sacrificing and characteristic that is preferred by consumers or most importantly by farmers. The word “bio-fortification” refers to enhancing the bioavailable micronutrient content of food crops through genetic selection via plant breeding. It is a promising- 

1. Crop productivity (i.e., yield) must be maintained or increased to ensure farmer acceptance; 

2. The enhanced micronutrient level must have a significant impact on human health;

3. The enhanced micronutrient trait must be relatively stable across various edaphic environments and climatic zones;

4. The bioavailability of micronutrients in enriched lines must be tested in humans to ensure that they improve the micronutrient status of people preparing and eating them in traditional ways within normal household environments; and

5. Consumer acceptance must be taste (taste and cooking quality must be acceptable to household members) to ensure maximum impact on nutritional health.

Why Bio-fortified Zinc Rice?

According to the USAID Nutrition database, per 100 grams of rice, we get approximately 129 kcal of energy, 78.09 grams of carbohydrates, 7.12 grams of protein, 1.30 grams of fibre, 0.28 grams of fat, 28 mg of calcium, 25 mg of magnesium, 1.09 mg of zinc, 0.28 mg of iron, 0.07 mg of thiamine, 0.015 mg of riboglavin and other essential nutrients.

Zinc acts as an antioxidant in the body to increase immunity and body growth. Since all people in Bangladesh, irrespective of financial resources, consume rice, micronutrients incorporated in rice grains seem to be an immediate and sustainable approach to making micronutrients available to consumers of all levels, particularly the poor.

The zinc requirement for adults and children is 08-12 mg/day and 03-05 mg/day respectively. So it is possible to meet the body’s zinc requirements to a large extent by eating Bio-fortified Zinc Rice (BZR). These varieties contain more zinc than other varieties of rice, having 02.57 mg of zinc/100 g of rice.

Effects of BZR on household food and nutrition security

According to the World Health Organization, zinc deficiency is the 5th important factor for illness and diseases in developing countries and 11th in the world. Zinc deficiency causes diarrhoea and respiratory diseases, leading to 400,000 deaths annually across the world.

Zinc deficiency is also associated with poor growth, loss of appetite, skin lesions, impaired taste acuity, delayed wound healing, hypogonadism, delayed sexual maturation and impaired immune response.

With 44 per cent of the girls, aged between 15 and 19 too short for their age, Bangladesh is home to the world’s largest number of stunted adolescent girls after Guatemala.

Zinc is not stored in the body. So, it is important to regularly consume food that is rich in zinc. Rice being the staple food is the principal source of protein and minerals in the diet of Bangladeshi people.

The people of Bangladesh consume almost 70 per cent of their diet as rice. Mills use modern technology and make the rice highly glazed by removing the outer layer i.e., bran even some portion of endosperm starch. As a result, highly polished rice removes almost all nutritional values such as vitamins and minerals. 

On the other hand, poor people cannot afford to buy fish, meat, milk, fruits; vegetable which are the other major sources of micronutrients. 

As such poor people are suffering from micronutrient, especially zinc deficiencies. Improving nutrition can have a significant impact on survival as well as physical and cognitive growth and productivity. Good nutrition, comprising adequate quality and quantity of food intake and reduction of illness is also a basic human right and is an essential input for economic development. Zinc is essential for a strong and robust immune system, optimal blood sugar balance, healthy metabolism, protein synthesis, physical growth and development, wound healing, hormone health, better sleep, improving sleep and antioxidants.

As a “Global Public Good” International Agricultural Research in the form of the International Rice Research Institute initially implemented the ‘Green Revolution’ in the 1960s, successfully leading to enhanced grain production through the development of High Yielding Varieties (HYVs). 

However grains of HYVs contain lesser amounts of nutrients; in the case of rice, polishing further reduces the nutrient content, viz., iron and zinc. Improving nutrition is also being targeted by fewer than 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations.

Some initiatives were taken in the past for food fortification through coating and extrusion technologies for Bangladeshi rice grain with imported fortified rice kernels.

This approach has a rare benefit from the nutritional point of view since such external supplementation is vulnerable to loss of zinc during washing prior to cooking and gruel removal. Under the circumstances, the worthwhile approach and easily available zinc nutrition strategy would be to incorporate zinc in rice endosperm, the material we eat as cooked rice, through a conventional breeding process i.e. through bio-fortification.

In that case, there will be little chance of loss of zinc during milling and gruel removal since zinc is embedded in the entire part of the endosperm. Thus poor people will have some access to zinc nutrition through their stable food, which is very much in line with the strategy of the government of Bangladesh, even if they do not have any supplement source of zinc. 

About 70 per cent of the zinc requirement in the human body can be met through rice.

Strategical action for wide production and consumption of BZR

Every year, Bangladesh loses over $700 million in GDP to mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Micronutrient malnutrition has long-ranging effects on health, learning ability and productivity, which in turn have high social and public cost consequences.

Ministry of Food has already included procurement of BZR from the boro season of 2021-22 fiscal years from five districts (Bhola, Barishal, Takurgaon, Gaibandha and Rangpur), 2022-23 fiscal years from 10 districts (previous five districts and Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Sirajgonj, Cumilla and Sunamgonj) and 2023-24 fiscal years from 15 districts (previous 10 district and Meherpur, Cox’s Bazar, Patuakhali, Sariatpur and Chandpur).

In order to reduce the hidden hunger for zinc micronutrient nutrition for rural poor people, the government needs to play a leading coordination role through the following strategies:-

1. Doing proper research on the impact of Bio-fortified Zinc Rice (BZR) on the nutrition security of rural poor people,

2. Create awareness about the benefit of BZR consumption by rural poor through publicity in the media and relevant organizations,

3. Mainstreaming of seed production and delivery to farmers,

4. DAE should take proper initiative for the extension of these BZR varieties to grassroots-level rural farmers,

5. MoFood should take more agenda to deliver the BZR to different society/group/ social safety net programmes such as school feeding programme, VGD etc.

6. Increase demand and market share of zinc rice at the division/district level.

Zinc deficiency is high among low-income people, who cannot afford animal-sourced protein.

Again sea fish could be a good source, but poor people cannot afford to access that. The advantages of these varieties are that they are inbred varieties and farmers can produce seeds for their own use like other existing traditional and modern varieties developed through the breeding process and are not GMO against which people have some apprehensions. 

Zinc-enriched bio-fortified rice could cover more areas and more people in rural areas to access zinc nutrition with knowledge and a positive attitude.



The writer is a Bangabandhu PhD Fellow and Additional Deputy Director at the Department of Agricultural Extension.