Before COVID-19 happened, 40 million people in Pakistan were already food insecure and the current situation has further pushed the people to the edge. Initially they had less to put on their plate, now people are thinking how to put the food on the plate, in the first place. 

Pakistan was facing huge burden of malnutrition, pre-COVID-19, 37% of the households were food insecure and more than 50% of women and children were suffering from multiple micronutrient deficiencies. COVID pandemic has affected multiple aspects of our food system. The economic slowdown has affected poorer communities disproportionately, limiting access to adequate, safe, and nutritious food for households. Severe Food Insecurity in the country has increased to 10% during COVID period as compared to approximately 3% reported in 2018-19. While 30% of the households reported, Moderate Food Insecurity as compared to 13% reported in 2018-19. 

SUNCSA Initiates to Guide Nutritionally Rich Ration Packages

Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance Pakistan (SUNCSA) is engaged in advocacy for the implementation of multi-sectoral nutrition strategies, demanding enhanced budgetary allocations for nutrition and the implementation of rules/laws. Recently they came up with an initiative to present nutritional guidelines for organizations giving ration packages to deserving people. This is particularly important because when poverty and malnutrition is prevalent in the society, it is recommended to provide nutritionally balanced food to achieve the malnutrition goals sooner.

It is very important to include energy giving nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the ration package before moving onto other preliminary food items. An estimated 45-65 % Carbohydrate 10-15% Protein of total energy and 30 % Fat of total energy with no more than 7% energy coming from saturated fat. Hence it is very crucial to include fortified wheat flour, chickpeas and beans as well as vitamin A and D fortified cooking oil. Iodized salt is considered another essential item to be included in ration as our diets as typically lacking iodine.

An ideal Ration Package:

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Source: Nutritionally Balanced Guidelines for Ration Packages

Specialized Ration for Different Groups

If a ration box is destined for a family where there are kids, the box may contain an item rich in Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)  responsible for cognitive growth and performance of the children. The item included in such circumstance would be blended fortified supplements, margarine to supplement nutritional intake. Other item includes combination of cereals and pulses or any complementary feeding formulas. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also an option.

If the ration box is made for a family where there is a pregnant or lactating woman, a folic acid rich food will be added in the box such as whole grain products and fresh fruits and vegetables. Addition to these, nuts can also be added if feasible.

If the ration box is aimed for elderly residing in beneficiary’s home, the ration items should include items rich in calcium and vitamin D to support strong growth of the bones as well as addition of vitamin C products such as fruits which are good for quicker healing and strong immunity. This ration should also include fresh produce fruits and vegetables and varieties of pulses and grains.

The guidelines provided by SUNCSA also highlighted that the ration boxes, be it aiming at any group should contain ginger and garlic because of its strong antioxidant properties and a natural immunity booster. 

Addition of supplements is also recommended owing the current COVID-19 situation as immunity boosters from food alone are not sufficient and one needs to accommodate these from supplements as well. Dissolvable calcium and vitamin c tablets are easily available and recommended for inclusion in the ration packages. 

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Dilemma of non-commercial Nutritious Foods

However, the provision of these food products puts limitations on the NGO’s giving the ration packages as limited budgets often reduce the quantity and quality of food products in the ration. boxes. It is very important to keep in mind that when we talk about available nutritious products, we often see ourselves facing another dilemma of non-commercial, high priced nutritious products. We need to keep in mind the cost that comes with this and we need to work more on the commercialization of these products so that they are easily available as well as competitively priced.

Cover image credits: https://www.forbes.com/sites/timothyjmcclimon/2020/05/06/charity-food/?sh=712f3dcc6f5a