Before we worry about how many people go to bed hungry in the world, we must tackle an even more damaging yet easy-to-fix problem–how many people are simply malnourished.

It costs less than a dollar to fortify an entire ton of rice with essential nutrients like calcium, many metals (like iron), and vitamins, whether by genetically engineering them to be more nutritious or by artificially mixing them in. Yet, for that dollar, it produces at least a ten-fold (estimated 17x) return within that year in terms of boosted productivity–not to mention the higher standard of living, better health, and clearer mind. The social dividend from this minor investment will be on a scale magnitudes more significant than the global iodizing of salt.

So why don’t developing nations invest in such a project? It has three options:

  1. Pay for it: Distribute fortification materials to farmers, or expand the ambitions of agriculture research labs, and distribute engineered seeds. For the few hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually, more than that will be earned back in increased productivity (captured in taxes), better health (captured in lower health costs and higher happiness), and political points (for the democracies). This is the preferred option
  2. Force it: By law, all rice has to be fortified. This has enforcement issues. Since farmers aren’t paid to do it, they have no incentive to pay to do it themselves.
  3. Hope for external help: This isn’t exactly a complete option–but hope for help from an agency like the IMF or WFP–and simply deal with enforcement

Each idea has issues with centralization, because farmers aren’t as concentrated as salt-producers, but if implemented correctly, will provide tangible returns ad infinitum. So why not give it a try?

Let’s start with China and India.