Rice fortification is a key step in addressing nutritional issues in Cambodia, where a majority of the population eats a large portion of rice on a daily basis, said a senior official of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD).

CARD secretary-general Sok Silo was speaking at a May 23-24 technical training seminar on rice fortification to support the development of in-country fortification capacity. The seminar is organised by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), in partnership with Green Trade Company – a state-owned enterprise – and Cambodia Rice Federation, the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body.

“This training is a step forward in support of the national agenda on food fortification and responds to recommendations from the 2021 Food Systems Dialogue on commercialising fortified foods,” said Silo.

In Cambodia, the fortification of salt, fish sauce, and soy sauce with iodine or folate has been practiced for a number of years; rice fortification is still relatively new to the country. In fact, it was with the support of the WFP that fortified rice was first introduced to the national school feeding programme.

“I believe it is a key step to solving nutritional issues in the country, where a majority of the population eats a large portion of rice on a daily basis,” added Sok Silo, emphasising that Cambodia has some of the highest levels of rice consumption in the region.

Rice is a good source of energy but lacks critical micronutrients like vitamin A, iron, and calcium that are prevalent in other foods like fruits and vegetables. As a result, many Cambodians are affected by micronutrient deficiencies, which can impact health, productivity, and learning capacity, he said.

According to a May 23 WFP press release citing a study on the economic consequences of malnutrition in Cambodia, the costs related to malnutrition ranges between $250 million and $400 million annually, of which over $134 million is lost to micronutrient deficiencies alone.

Production managers from 15 commercial rice mills are participating in the training, which will use a hands-on approach to demonstrate the blending process, equipment installation and operation, and quality assurance and control.

Mam Borath, director of the Nutrition Improvement Department under the Ministry of Planning, said addition of vitamins or minerals to rice safely improves its nutritional quality and is an effective way to fight micronutrient deficiencies among the poor without a need to change their food habits and taste.

“A 2017 study by WFP showed that one-fifth of Cambodian households cannot afford the least expensive adequate nutritious diet,” he confirmed.

He said that since 2010, WFP has been a leading partner with the government in the field of rice fortification. Early acceptability studies showed that fortified rice was well-liked by teachers, parents, and school children around the country.

“Later, a randomised control trial with over 9,000 schoolchildren confirmed the positive impacts of fortified rice in improving the health and cognitive performance of children in rural districts,” he said.

As a result, the government approved the use of fortified rice in the school meal programme in 2016. Three years later, WFP and Green Trade carried out the first in-country blending of fortified rice, which proved successful and paved the way for the current work supporting national rice millers to take on the blending process.

WFP country director Clair Conan congratulated the government for its partnership and support of this innovation, saying the process is now at a stage where it can be scaled up to ensure sustainable supplies of fortified rice in the country.

“By leveraging the use of fortified rice, we can ensure that nutritious foods will be affordable to everyone, particularly the poor and vulnerable, and help overcome malnutrition across the country, especially among women, children and lactating mothers,” she said.