In a pioneering move to combat micronutrient deficiency, 500 students, teachers, and parents across 23 schools in Argungu, Kalgo, and Birnin Kebbi Local Government Areas (LGAs) are participating in a pilot programme where they are being served genetically modified rice.
The initiative, a collaboration between the Kebbi government, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the World Food Programme (WFP), aims to assess the acceptability of fortified rice for inclusion in the school feeding programme menu.
Oluwatosin Adu, the fortified rice cooking programme facilitator, explained that Kebbi was selected for this initiative due to its status as the primary hub of rice production in Nigeria.
The ultimate goal is to introduce micro-fortified rice to Nigerians and evaluate its reception before presenting the feedback to the federal government.
“After this acceptability test, we will take the feedback to the federal government,” said Adu. “It’s expected that rice millers in the state will start producing fortified rice, and it will be integrated into the school feeding program so that school children and households can now eat fortified rice and stay healthy.”
Integral to the Promoting Rice Fortification in Nigeria (PRiFN) project are cooking demonstrations and sensory acceptability tests.
These activities serve to raise awareness about the benefits of fortified rice, showcasing its adaptability to various cooking methods and local rice cuisines while highlighting its deliciousness.
Seun Elere, the GAIN coordinator, emphasised that the introduction of fortified rice could significantly impact health, especially in Kebbi, where approximately 40% of the population is reportedly suffering from anemia. Yusuf Abdullahi of the Federal University, Birnin Kebbi, expressed optimism that fortified rice could reduce this number, contributing to an overall healthier community.
Commending GAIN and WFP for their initiative, Maryam Umar-Tafida, the wife of the Kebbi deputy governor, highlighted the nutritional benefits of fortified rice.
She stressed that fortified rice contains the necessary nutrients to combat diseases and saw the event as a unique opportunity to educate the public on the advantages of incorporating fortified rice into their diets.
The PRiFN project stands as a collaborative effort between GAIN and WFP, aligning with the federal government’s national micronutrient deficiency control strategy.
As Kebbi takes the lead in this groundbreaking pilot program, it paves the way for potential widespread adoption of genetically modified rice to address nutritional challenges in the region and beyond.