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What if there were a way to increase nutrients in rice, the staple food of more than half of the world’s population? How many children could be saved from iron deficiency? How many birth defects could be prevented?

PATH’s Ultra Rice technology, a “grain” reconstituted from nutrient-enriched rice flour, can be mixed with natural rice to help fight micronutrient deficiencies in vulnerable communities. It is already in use or under consideration in a handful of rice-consuming countries. Now PATH has received a $US6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to facilitate broader access to, and greater use of, fortified rice.

Benefits of fortification

Micronutrient deficiencies threaten the health of about two billion people worldwide, most in the developing world. Fortifying staple foods is a cost-effective and sustainable way to reduce micronutrient malnutrition on a large scale. The Ultra Rice technology brings the benefits of fortification to rice.

Ultra Rice grains resemble natural milled rice grains in size, shape, and color, but they are made from rice flour, selected micronutrients, and other natural ingredients that are combined and extruded through a rice-shaped mold. When the Ultra Rice grains are blended with natural rice, the result is nearly identical to unfortified rice in smell, taste, and texture, allowing people to maintain their traditional cooking or eating habits.

Micronutrients are protected within the manufactured grain, preserved from degradation during storage and prevented from being rinsed away during preparation. In addition, Ultra Rice can be adapted to contain just the nutrients a population needs—and to mimic the look of the local rice.

Working with rice millers in developing countries

Since 1994, PATH has developed two separate mixes of Ultra Rice—one carrying vitamin A and the other carrying iron, zinc, thiamin, and folic acid. PATH transferred the technology to local rice mills in Colombia and Brazil, resulting in Ultra Rice reaching thousands of children every day. PATH has also worked with the governments of India and China to assess the feasibility of introducing the Ultra Rice technology in those countries.

The new funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will further PATH’s efforts to introduce the Ultra Rice technology in developing countries. In addition to increasing the demand for and supply of Ultra Rice in Colombia, Brazil, India, and China, the project will transfer the Ultra Rice technology to other interested parties and will contribute to global efforts to reduce micronutrient malnutrition.

Ultra Rice is a registered trademark in the United States of Bon Dente International, Inc.