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Chhattisgarh should adopt effective, safe solutions to malnutrition and abandon rice fortification: Activists


RAIPUR: Activists of the Right to Food Campaign (RTFC) and Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) have urged the Chhattisgarh government to abandon its rice fortification interventions and instead adopt effective, safe solutions to the problem of malnutrition in the state.

The state has begun distribution of fortified rice to the beneficiaries in ten aspirational and two high-burden districts through the public distribution system from March this year. “The pilot project in Chhattisgarh's Kondagaon district started in November 2020 but has not been completed nor evaluation done or results put out for public scrutiny," stated the report.

The state’s decision is intended to eradicate malnutrition and anaemia from these districts. Nearly, Rs 28.43 crore will be spent on the fortification of rice and Rs 11.6 crore on its distribution.

“Chhattisgarh self-sufficient in paddy production should step out of the Centre’s unscientific and risky policy on iron-fortified rice in public schemes. Health is a state subject. The state shouldn't get coerced into fortified rice distribution in public schemes," said the fact team members.

The state is distributing 25-40 per cent of the total fortified rice delivered in the entire country.

“It is not clear if the rice fortification standards have been set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). There is no evaluation of potential iron-overdosing from a plethora of interventions. There is a need for compliance with statutory regulations too, for instance, labelling. There remains merely aggressive promotional campaign to extolling the virtues of fortified rice without letting the beneficiaries the prior informed choices or giving them a full picture," said ASHA and RTFC in their joint statement. 

Two teams on a fact-finding mission visited 5 blocks of four districts in Chhattisgarh, all in the tribal belt during June 13-15.

The report has been shared with the state food minister Amarjeet Bhagat and senior bureaucrats. “The officials have expressed concern and assured us to examine in to it," said Kavitha Kuruganti from ASHA. 

The findings pointed out that like at the national level, the role of the department of health and family welfare is unclear in Chhattisgarh too.

“Rice fortification has not been found to be an effective strategy to tackle anaemia neither in India nor in other places across the world going to the RTI replies and the credible published papers. Chhattisgarh has a high disease burden (Thalassemia, sickle cell anaemia, malaria, tuberculosis, etc) of contra-indicated conditions. With the state having over 30 per cent of the tribal population, the Adivasis are feared as disproportionately vulnerable," said the report that further added that the medical reasons exist for advising against iron-fortified foods even as the team appreciated the state government’s exemplary initiatives having the potential to address malnutrition.