Solomon Islands Receives First Shipment of Fortified Rice

Sabina Pelomo from the Solomon Islands biosecurity staff and Minnie Vaike from customs examine bags of fortified rice.

Sabina Pelomo from the Solomon Islands biosecurity staff and Minnie Vaike from customs examine bags of fortified rice.

Fortified rice could `contribute considerably' to nutrient intake

31 July 2019

The first shipment of fortified, imported rice arrived in Solomon Islands in June. “This will help prevent the adverse effects of nutritional deficiencies such as impaired cognitive development, low immunity, and birth defects of the spine and brain," said the Ministry of Health and Medical Services Permanent Secretary Pauline McNeil.

In November 2018, the Minister of Health and Medical Services of the Solomon Islands, the Hon. Tautai Agikimua Kaitu’U, approved a standard that required rice to be fortified with iron, zinc, folic acid, thiamin and niacin. The standard allowed several months for implementation.

To determine appropriate fortification levels and expected nutrient contribution, researchers analyzed food purchases to estimate food consumption. Using data from the 2012-2013 Household Income and Expenditure Surveys (HIES), they concluded that fortified rice would “contribute considerably” to nutrient intake among women of reproductive age. They looked specifically at daily intake of iron, zinc, and the B vitamins folic acid, thiamin, and niacin. The work was published in the Food and Nutrition Bulletin.

The 2015 Demographic Health Survey for Solomon Islands showed:

  • 41% of women aged 15 - 49 years had anemia
  • 54% of pregnant women had anemia
  • 39% of children aged 6 to 59 months had anemia

Deficiencies of iron, zinc, and folic acid (vitamin B9) are among the nutritional causes of anemia. Consequently, fortifying food with these nutrients can contribute to lowering the prevalence of anemia in Solomon Islands.

In addition, about 12 pregnancies a year are affected by a brain or spine birth defect in Solomon Islands. Fortifying food with folic acid is likely to reduce the number of affected pregnancies.

Solomon Islands fortification committee

Pictured with samples of fortified rice are, standing from left, Patricia Soqoilo,
Dian Row, 
Jahreth Limarii, Fiona Mulhearn, Nemia Bainivalu,  Zema Joseph,
Annie Eli, andMuffat Taro. Kneeling is Dennis Bittisnich.

Wheat flour fortification is already mandatory in Solomon Islands. Yet according to the HIES analysis, median apparent intake of fortified wheat flour among women of reproductive age was 22 grams per day, compared to 205 grams per day of rice. Fortification of both rice and wheat flour will significantly increase the likelihood of the country’s nearly 600,000 residents reaching target levels of essential vitamins and minerals.

Solomon Islands’ wheat flour standard includes the same nutrients as the new rice standard plus riboflavin. This B vitamin is usually excluded from fortified rice because it causes a color change in rice that is unacceptable to consumers.

The Food Fortification Initiative (FFI) will continue to assist Solomon Islands’ ministries to monitor and enforce programs, deliver compliance information to rice importers and other affected businesses, and implement a communication program for health professionals and consumers to understand the meaning and importance of the rice fortification requirements. FFI’s work here is supported by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

For additional information, see:

Fortified rice legislation map

The seven countries in yellow in the above map (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and the United States) have mandates for rice fortification. In addition, some rice is fortified for social safety net programs, market-based activities, and voluntary programs.

In the above map, dark gray countries are where more than 75 grams of rice per person per day is available for human consumption, based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In these countries. rice fortification may be able to make an important contribution to the population’s nutrition.