The Ministry of Agriculture and Plantation Industries, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Presidential Secretariat and the World Food Program WFP will jointly start a midday meal program to improve the nutritional status of children below grade1- 5 this month.
With the aim of improving the nutritional status of school children, the Food Promotion Board has started the preparation of Fortified Rice, which is prepared by mixing iron and folic acid with rice. Mr. Palinda Sagara, Chairman of the Food Promotion Board, said that the production of rice has already started in the Kalankuttia rice mill belonging to the board.
Under this programme, five lakh school children are to be given midday meals with this fortified rice for a period of 8 months. For this program, the World Food Program has given an amount of 108 million rupees to the Ministry of Agriculture last 31st by the President’s Secretariat.
The launching ceremony of this fortified rice to midday meal program was held February 01 in the morning at the Colombo Ramada Hotel. Minister of Agriculture and Plantation Industries Mr. Mahinda Amaraweera, Minister of Health Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, Chief of Staff and Security Adviser Mr.Sagala Ratnayake, Country Representative of the World Food Program Mr. Abdur Rahim Siddique and others participated in this event.
Fortified rice containing iron and folic acid was officially handed over to the Ministry of Education. The rice was handed over by the Minister of Agriculture and Plantation Industries, Mr. Mahinda Amaraweera, to the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Mrs. Kumari Parsiyala.
The Minister who expressed his opinion here :- It has been reported that 15.3% of the school children in our country are suffering from underweight while another 7.3% are suffering from obesity . Although the available statistics regarding child nutrition are at different levels, it seems that there are a number of reasons that affect child malnutrition in the country.
Especially because the economic situation is not good, parents are not able to provide nutritious food to their children. This situation has caused the nutritional levels of children to drop. And another group of children are suffering from malnutrition. Also, due to the high speed of the existing education system and the restlessness that the children are facing, many children do not receive regular meals.
Children who are in school from morning till evening then go to tuition classes. Even when they come home late at night, some children have to face home tuitions. Some children get a whole day’s meal or a bottle of soft drink, or a packet of high sugar milk and some children are consume sweet doughnuts.
When I was the Deputy Minister of Health, in a survey conducted in connection with canteens in Colombo schools, it was reported that the amount of donuts sold in one popular school’s canteen was 3,500 per day. Due to these reasons, 15 and 16 year old children are also facing non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Therefore, I request the Food Promotion Board to focus on whether the children will be interested in the consumption of this rice while thinking that the children will get the nutrition they need from this fortified rice.
Although the Minister of Health, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, who expressed his opinion, called Sri Lanka as the granary of the East, 48 even when we got independence, enough rice was not produced in this country for the people of that time. That is why we even had to sign a rice-rubber agreement with the Chinese government at that time. However, currently the rice we need is produced in our country. We import only a few varieties of rice which are not produced in our country.
As the Minister of Health, one of the main issues I see is the current lack of nutrition among school children. There are many reasons for this. Therefore, I believe that the nutritional deficiencies of many school children will be eliminated through this rice empowerment program that will be started today.
President’s Chief of Staff Mr. Sagala Ratnayake also expressed his views and the Chairman of the Food Promotion Board Mr. Palinda Sagara also participated in this event.