The UN World Food Programme (WFP), in partnership with the Nutrition Improvement Department of the Ministry of Planning and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), is undertaking a socio-economic impact analysis on the introduction of fortified rice among the general population, according to an October 31 press release.
The press release read that food fortification is the addition of important micronutrients to foods to enhance their nutritional value safely and cost-effectively. While the fortification of salt, fish sauce and soy sauce with iodine and/or folate has been practiced for many years and is well-accepted in Cambodia, large scale rice fortification is a relatively new concept in the country.
The analysis, to begin early next year, will help the government take stock of the benefits of investing in locally produced fortified rice and evaluate its impact on reducing micronutrient deficiencies among the population.
“These may include reductions in health care costs, improved health and nutrition outcomes, enhanced educational capacity, improved productivity, and other gains that benefit human capital and economic development,” said the release.
Sok So Yon, under secretary of state of the Ministry of Planning and chair of the National Sub-Committee for Food Fortification (NSCFF), said the study is an important step forward in supporting the national agenda on food fortification, in response to recommendations from the 2021 Food Systems Dialogues to strengthen advocacy around food fortification nationally.
WFP was this week joined by a team of scholars from Virginia Tech, who met with government officials, private sector representatives, consumers and producers to co-create a framework for the final analysis.
As part of the visit, WFP co-organised an October 27 workshop with the planning ministry, bringing together the main NSCFF stakeholders and development agencies to discuss priorities and identify key questions the government wanted the analysis to address.
WFP country representative Claire Conan said fortified rice offered a significant opportunity to improve the nutrition of vulnerable populations across the country in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
“For over a decade, WFP has been a leading partner to the government on rice fortification. We have provided fortified rice to hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren through school feeding programmes,” she added.
“Fortified rice has been critical in maximising the nutritional value of school meals with minimal added cost, which has played a role in improving the learning capacity and health of students,” said Conan.
A recent study of the economic impacts of malnutrition in Cambodia found that it cost the Kingdom between $250 million and $400 million a year, of which more than $134 million was lost due to micronutrient deficiencies.
WFP is currently working with the government to identify opportunities for introducing fortified rice to the broader population. It aims to partner with the government and the private sector to enhance health and nutrition at scale and boost economic development. The forthcoming study will be a critical step in advancing this agenda at the national level.