Over 2 million people throughout the world have diets severely lacking vital micronutrients. Such deficient diets have detrimental affects on immune and brain function. Children specifically are of major concern because these deficiencies severely inhibit their growth and development, preventing them from learning and growing into healthy and productive adults. Worldwide, 50% of the deaths in children under the age of 5 are related to malnutrition. PATH, an international nonprofit organization that utilizes health technologies and strategies to change the way people go about improving global health and wellness, has come up with a possible solution to this worldwide issue of malnutrition: Ultra Rice.
Ultra Rice is a grain made with rice flour and is custom packed with nutrients to fit the nutritional needs of a particular group of people. It is made in a pasta machine, but shaped to look like rice. What is so extraordinary about this rice product is that we can alter the micronutrient content to fit the needs and tastes of a specific population. The manufacturing technique of Ultra Rice ensures that the micronutrients of each grain are preserved and maintained throughout storage and preparation. Its adaptability and durability provide an efficient solution to micronutrient deficiencies in underdeveloped countries where rice is a staple food in their diet, such as those in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle Eastern.
Currently, there are two kinds of Ultra Rice, each which contain some of the main micronutrients that are lacking in the diets of many developing countries. One of the Ultra Rice formulas contains Vitamin A, which is essential for proper immune function. Vitamin A deficiency affects forty percent of children under 5. The other kind of Ultra Rice can contain iron, folic acid, and/or zinc. Iron plays a major role in brain development from 6 to 24 months of age. Folic acid is essential during the first 28 days of gestation. Pregnant women that do not consume enough folic acid during this initial and crucial stage of pregnancy are at a high risk of delivering a child with severe neural tube birth defects that impair the functioning of the brain and spinal cord. Zinc is essential in immune function. Fortified staple food products, such as Ultra Rice, could solve a number of the malnutrition problems throughout the world. More importantly, it provides a quick and efficient way Ultra Rice can be adapted to a particular populations needs.
PATH has worked with the governments of Brazil, Columbia, India, and China to establish school meal programs including Ultra Rice for children. I think that establishing programs like these are essential in underdeveloped, nutrient deficient countries. These countries developed deficient diets because the main component of their diets is processed starchy white rice that has been stripped of most nutrients. Ultra Rice is manufactured to look and taste just like the rice that they are used to, but it is packed with all of the micronutrients that white rice (and their diet) is missing. The sad thing is that so many of the people living in these countries have been lacking these essential nutrients throughout their entire lives and thus much of the damage has already been done. Addressing these micronutrient deficiencies early, i.e. during pregnancy, lactation, and childhood is the most beneficial and effective way to go about eliminating the issue of malnutrition.
Recently, in October of 2010, the USDA donated 1 million dollars to PATH for the Ultra Rice Project. PATH has used this money to introduce Ultra Rice into Africa. Burundi is an African nation that severely suffers from malnutrition. Burundi school children will be the first in Africa to benefit from Ultra Rice. In Burundi, rice is considered a luxury food and is usually eaten only on special occasions. It is not usually an accessible product for ordinary Burundian people. However, with the help of PATH, the institution of Ultra Rice technology may help with this process. Solving malnutrition will take time, but if enthusiasm and success continues, this fortified product could be the solution to malnutrition.
1. PATH: Ultra Rice technology. Available at: http://www.path.org/projects/ultra_rice.php [Accessed February 25, 2011].
2. Fortified rice to fight anaemia in Burundi schools – Africa The Good News. Available at: http://www.africagoodnews.com/development/health/2377-fortified-rice-to-fight-anaemia-in-burundi-schools.html [Accessed February 25, 2011].
3. Tech Award Laureates: PATH Ultra Rice Brings Nutritious Meals to Developing Countries | Fast Company. Available at: http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/ariel-schwartz/sustainability/tech-award-laureates-path-ultra-rice-brings-nutritious-meals-deve [Accessed February 25, 2011].
4. Ultra Rice makes its official debut in Africa | ONE. Available at: http://www.one.org/blog/2010/10/21/ultra-rice-makes-its-official-debut-in-africa/ [Accessed February 25, 2011].