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2014 GAP Report® – Boosting Micronutrient Intake
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are found in all Indian socio-economic groups. While 22 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, 65.3 percent of pre-school age children suffer from one or more symptoms of vitamin A deficiency,139 and 70 percent of children aged six months to five years are anemic, as are 56 percent of women.140 Other deficiencies include folate, iodine, B vitamins, vitamin D and zinc. Diets of low-income families are largely cereal based and they have the most pronounced micronutrient deficiencies.
Access to a greater variety of foods, dietary changes and better sanitary and hygiene practices are all necessary for addressing nutrient imbalances and deficiencies. India is moving in that direction and is also taking steps to enhance the nutrient profile of staple foods in order to assure widespread consumption of essential minerals and vitamins.
STAPLE FOOD FORTIFICATION
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), a Swiss foundation granted special international status by the Swiss government, is financially supporting implementation of India’s national policy to improve nutrition through cost-effective fortification of staple foods in partnerships with private sector and government agencies. Fortification is a relatively straightforward technology to implement and it has a positive record of improving nutritional status in other countries where micronutrient deficiencies had been a problem.141
In Rajasthan, between 2011 and 2013, GAIN partnered with the Institute of Health Management Research (IHMR) to improve the nutritional quality of wheat flour, milk and oil — products that are consumed in high quantity by all population groups. Participating food processing industry partners bought the vitamin- mineral premix and were shown the process of fortification. Laboratory workers were trained in quality assurance and quality control protocols to assure the correct amounts of micronutrients were in the final products.
Workshops for print and electronic media helped spread the word about the advantages of consuming fortified foods to reduce micronutrient malnutrition. A social marketing and communications campaign, including displays in stores and information on the food packages, raised awareness of the value of fortified products to human health and children’s development.
Fortified wheat flour, oil and milk are now being made available through open market channels, and flour is also distributed through the Public Distribution System (PDS) to reach vulnerable populations. Technical assistance and some financial support are given to central kitchens for fortification of foods for the Mid-Day Meal program in public schools and the Integrated Child Development Services, which implements health, nutrition and developmental programs among socially disadvantaged groups.
The Rajasthan initiative and a similar one in Madhya Pradesh had a ripple effect. Other state governments also started providing fortified foods through their PDS and other food safety net programs. The success of the social media campaign stimulated private companies to take action on their own. Britannia, a well-known food manufacturer with a popular biscuit and other products, has fortified more than 50 percent of its product portfolio. Cargill India, a Business Alliance partner of GAIN, voluntarily fortified its entire refined edible oil range with vitamins A, D and E. Other companies have followed suit. Mother Dairy, which produces dairy products, fruit juices and edible oils, fortifies 50 percent of its oils and also sells vitamin A-fortified milk. Bunge India Private Limited fortifies its Dalda brand vegetable oils.
SCALING UP NUTRIENT ENHANCED CROPS
Biofortification is the breeding of crops to enhance nutrient contents. In developing countries where a few staple foods comprise the bulk of the national diet, biofortification of those foods is an effective mechanism for assuring the consumption of sufficient amounts of micronutrients. It is particularly important for the poor since their diets are the least diversified.142
Lentils are important source of protein, vitamins and minerals in South Asian diets. Because they have small-sized seeds with soft seed coats, they cook in less than 30 minutes, which preserves more nutrients than the long cooking periods for pulses with hard seed coats. Research has shown considerable variations in iron and zinc content depending on the seed variety and the location where the plant is grown. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) collaborated with the institutes throughout the region, including the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, to determine which varieties can produce high levels of zinc and iron and to use those seeds as parental stock for breeding stable varieties that can produce high yields under local conditions.
New international lentil nurseries were established to allow testing of different micronutrient-rich genotypes to see how they perform in terms of yield and micronutrient content and whether they are stable and can retain their favorable characteristics through multiple generations.
The next step was to work with farmers to show them how using this certified seed will provide a better harvest, earning higher returns, even though the seed may cost more than local varieties. State extension service agents created demonstration plots to show the increased productivity and lower costs of inputs to farmers by using no till methods, improved cultivation techniques to reduce seed loss and reduced application of urea fertilizer. The farmers were pleased with the results and were willing to buy the certified seeds and adopt the new practices. Farmers’ clubs are being used to produce the certified seeds for sale.
As a result of this ICARDA initiative, food and nutritional security has been enhanced in several ways. Indian farmers are cultivating a nutritionally enhanced lentil variety that has high yields and requires less labor and inputs to grow, thereby conserving resources while helping the nation reduce the prevalence of iron and zinc micronutrient deficiencies.
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Boosting Micronutrient Intake