PATH and World Vision to test fortified fake rice in Burundi

Rice
Flickr, Deborah Austin

PATH and World Vision have teamed up to test a “rice fortification method” in Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world.

It is the first time this strategy to fighting malnutrition will be tried in Africa.

PATH calls it Ultra Rice. I like to call it super-fantastic fake rice. Ultra Rice is basically “manufactured” rice-shaped pasta (made from rice) which has had blended into it essential nutrients often lacking in the diets of poor people. Some inventors in Bellingham originally came up with idea, which PATH refined.

Luke Timmerman, of Xconomy, did a good story on Ultra Rice and this announcement today.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding the project. The USDA has given PATH and World Vision $1 million to test Ultra Rice in Burundi, a tiny central African country with massive malnutrition and a life expectancy of about 50 years.

PATH will supply the fortified fake rice, World Vision will help with distribution and USDA — which helps run the world’s biggest food subsidy program — says it wants to see if Ultra Rice works to improve “the nutritional quality of food aid products that the Burundi people depend upon for survival.”

Ultra Rice may prove out to be a great success, if it is both cheap enough and simple enough to introduce as a supplementary boost to the food supply in poor communities. Reducing malnutrition globally is critical to much more than reducing hunger. It impacts education, maternal health and whole host of issues.

But perhaps the real problem, as many of those said at the World Food Prize meeting last week, is that too many people depend upon food aid. There is, in fact, enough food in the world to feed everyone. The US, in fact, is often criticized for pushing food aid (as a way to support our farmers) rather than local agricultural development.

Owen Barder, a development expert and blogger in Ethiopia, asks “Is agriculture the key to development?” Barder, citing the work of renowned economist Amartya Sen, says the root cause of hunger is poverty. Giving them more food — even more nutritious food — doesn’t make them less poor.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

  • Owen Barder

    Tom – It’s true, as you say, that I’m skeptical of the idea that improvements in agriculture are the solution to poverty or indeed to hunger.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m against technological advances which make food production more productive, or the resulting food more nutritious.

    I think the difficult economic issue here is the effect of using aid to finance food imports from America instead of local production.

    all the best
    Owen

    • http://humanosphere.kplu.org Tom Paulson

      Thanks Owen,
      I appreciate you checking in and hope I didn’t give readers the impression that you opposed what PATH was doing. I just thought you raised an important, broader issue that is sometimes neglected when we talk about finding solutions for immediate problems.