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Odisha move on Vitamin C laced rice to benefit corporates, 'undermine' tribal habits

Counterview Desk

Several civil society organizations and activists from across India, including those associated with the Right to Food Campaign (RTFC), National Alliance of People’s Movements, Desi Bihan Surakhya Mancha (Odisha) in a letter to Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, has sought for immediately withdrawal the decision to supply artificially Vitamin C laced rice in Malkangiri district.
Calling it a “whimsical decision”, the letter claims, it would lead to “wasteful use of people’s taxes during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic”, adding, the public distribution system (PDS) rice “is enough for only 10 days and the rest of the days people use other rice”, which suggests the government “is providing Vitamin C for only 10 days.”
Pointing out that this way the government is “forcing tribal people to change their agro-cultural food habits”, the letter contends, “Cooked rice will lose more than 75% of the Vitamin C added to the rice as Vitamin C is a water-soluble Vitamin lost in boiling and further in draining of water from cooked rice. The decision will only benefit companies engaged in artificial Vitamin C enrichment.”

Text:

On behalf of the Right to Food Campaign Odisha, National Alliance for People’s Movement (Odisha Chapter), Desi BihanSurakhya Mancha Odisha and other concerned civil society groups, we, the undersigned, would like to register our disagreement regarding the Govt of Odisha’s plan to introduce Vitamin C laced rice to the people of Malkangiri through the Public Distribution System (PDS).
We came to know of the government’s above decision through a news report in Odisha Post dated November 27 under the heading “Supply of Vitamin C laced rice in Malkangiri from February.” We strongly object to this decision of the Government to introduce artificially enhanced Vitamin C laced rice to PDS beneficiaries when there are ample substitutes in natural foods that are part of people’s traditional food practices.
The Government of Odisha needs to learn about nutrition and develop a basic understanding regarding Vitamin C and Calcium abundance in natural food consumed by the people in general which are available in plenty of vegetables and citrus fruits commonly found in all village and city ecosystems.
Vitamin C is water soluble and if the rice is laced with Vitamin C it will get washed away while the rice is cleaned before cooking. Therefore, it is futile to artificially lace the uncooked rice and that is reason why in tradition cooking practices, lemon juice is squeezed into cooked food before consuming it.
It has also been scientifically proven that natural source of Vitamin C not just provides Vitamin C but also many other nutrients and anti-oxidant. It is also need to be kept in the mind that only 50-55% of calories must come from cereals, now 70-80% of calories will come from rice because rice is expected to be a vehicle for Vitamin C also. This will lead to long term chronic diseases like diabetes etc.
We are wondering about the basis of this current decision and questions arise about whether the government has taken this decision based on any statistical data around Vitamin C and Calcium deficiency among PDS beneficiaries of Malkangiri! It is a travesty of food justice and mockery of food security to introduce artificially laced Vitamin C rice to the people of Malkangiri under the pretext of eradicating malnutrition.
If the Government of Odisha is truly committed to eradicating malnutrition, it would be more socially and ecologically just to support the PDS beneficiaries in Malkangiri access Vitamin C and Calcium nutrition through creating a support system around growing crops, trees and leafy vegetables like Amla, Guava, Papaya, Lemon, Kuler/ Barada Saag, Gandhari Saag and Tomatoes which are high in Vitamin C.
It would be socially, ecologically just to support a system to grow Amla, Guava, Papaya, Lemon, Kuler/ Barada Saag, Gandhari Saag, Tomatoes which are high in Vitamin C
These crops and fruit trees are commonly found and grown in most Adivasi villages of Malkangiri who are the major PDS beneficiaries being targeted under this initiative. Therefore, instead of the public taxpayers’ money going to Mumbai and Delhi based companies, the government should use the same funds to incentivize the direct consumption of Vitamin C and Calcium rich foods found in village and forest ecosystems.
One of the major reasons why Adivasi communities, particularly children and women, face malnutrition is their restriction in access to forests where fruits and greens are readily available for people to consume in their everyday diets. Further, Adivasi families are facing increasing threats to their rights to land and farming practices due to several development projects which is also an impediment to their access to natural food supplements and dietary practices.
It is important for the Government of Odisha to understand from this issue that in order to eradicate malnutrition the policies of the government needs to be more proactive and sensitive towards immediate settlement of tenurial rights over farmlands and community forests, incentivizing traditional mixed cropping cultivation practices and promoting diverse natural dietary practices amongst the PDS beneficiary families who are largely from Dalit and Adivasi communities.
It is in this context that we urge the Govt of Odisha to consider the following demands:
  1. To immediately withdraw the decision to supply Vitamin C laced rice to PDS beneficiaries in Malkangiri.
  2. The state government should provide vegetables rich in Vitamin C with PDS. 
  3. To use the funds allocated for the buying of machinery under the initiative to incentivize direct consumption of Vitamin C and Calcium rich foods found in village and forest ecosystems. 
  4. To immediately start the process of settlement of tenurial rights over farmlands and community forests to Adivasi and Dalit communities in Malkangiri. 
  5. To incentivize traditional mixed cropping cultivation practices and promoting diverse natural dietary practices among the PDS beneficiaries using funds from Odisha Millet Mission and Integrated farming projects being implemented in Malkangiri on a large scale.
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Click here for signatories

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