The country has no specific research to measure zinc level in rice after it is cooked, experts said at a roundtable on Sunday.
According to them, such research is needed as the government has bet a big on biofortified zinc rice varieties aiming to fight its deficiency among millions of adults and children.
Speakers at the roundtable titled “Opportunity of Reducing Malnutrition through Extension of Biofortified Zinc Rice in Bangladesh” also put emphasis on popularising zinc enriched rice as well as on diversified food to fight the zinc and other nutrition deficiency.
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) in association with Empiric Research organised the programme at a city hotel with participation of biofortified zinc rice value chain actors.
GAIN Bangladesh has been implementing “Commercialisation of Biofortified Crops (CBC) project since 2019.
According to the government agencies, ten varieties of zinc and iron enriched rice have been developed so far while 0.2 million hectares of land have come under farming of such varieties.
The country’s 32.5 per cent of children aged between 6.0 months and 59 months have zinc deficiency which has emerged as a critical health matter, said the keynote, presented by Dr Ashek Mahfuz, Portfolio Lead, GAIN.
Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque, the agriculture minister and also an agronomist, said zinc is one of the most important nutritional element for the human.
“Nutrition enriched and safe food is one of the important parts of our election manifesto and we are bound to ensure this for the people,” he said.
According to him, 32.5 per cent children under five years are suffering from zinc deficiency, 52.8 per cent from Vitamin A deficiency and 14.9 per cent from iron deficiency in the country.
Such deficiency has been affecting growth and immune system of child health. He said demand of zinc and other types of nutrition should be met to build a creative, studious and hardworking nation.
He added nutrition enriched rice is being popularised by the government to prevent malnutrition.
Agriculture secretary Wahida Akter who chaired the discussion said, “Zinc is unavoidable for our immune system.”
She added, “People consume rice grain a lot. So if we could give people zinc through rice, it would be very easy and economically viable to provide them with the nutrition.”
She also said comprehensive programmes are being taken to boost zinc enriched rice.
Researcher Prof Dr Shabuktagin Rahman said poverty and dietary habit are mainly responsible for zinc and other nutrition deficiency among people.
He added Bangladesh has advanced in zinc fortification on rice compared to many other countries.
He said it is a tough task to provide required animal protein to 170 million of people which is a best source for zinc. He added it would be great if people get zinc from their consumed rice.
“But there is no specific research in the country whether zinc biofortification has any impact on rice or not”, he said.
“For such research, a biomarker is needed and unfortunately there is no biomarker though we are trying to develop such,” he said.
PKSF general manager Dr Sharif Ahmed Chowdhury pointed out three aspects related to zinc fortification on rice including availability, utilisation and absorption.
He said, “We are just talking about availability.” Research also should be done what the level of zinc remains on cooked rice, he said.
He added zinc – 8.0 to 11 mg- should be ensured for people as it is one of the most important elements for the human body.
It works with 2,800 different enzymes of the human body.
Cognitive development, immune, DNA synthesis and many other tasks are done by zinc, he said.
Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) director general Dr Shahjajan Kabir said government organisations have developed ten zinc and iron enriched rice varieties.
In the southern region, zinc enriched BRRI dhan 74 has been popularised which contains 24 ppm of zinc.
He said Bangabandhu dhan 100 contains 27.6 ppm of zinc and 10 ppm of iron. “We have a target to get required 50 to 80 per cent of zinc demand from rice,” he said. Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) Chairman Md Abdullah Sazzad said they have yet to get breeder seed of Bangabandhu dhan 100 and BRRI dhan102.
He said the Corporation has targeted to capture 30 per cent of rice land for cultivating zinc fortified rice.
Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) Director General Dr Mirza Mofazzal Islam said BINA dhan 27 contains above 27 ppm of zinc and it is being popularised.