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Relevance: Tackling malnutrition
Synopsis: Using science to address the complex challenge of malnutrition, particularly for low-income and vulnerable sections of the society, can be a good intervention. Bio-fortification of food can come handy to address the issue of malnutrition in India along with other measures.
The Prime Minister recently announced that, by 2024, rice provided to the poor under any government scheme — PDS, mid-day-meal, anganwadi — will be fortified.
Malnutrition in India
- 15.3% of the country’s population is undernourished.
- India has the highest proportion of “stunted” (30%) and “wasted” children (17.3%) below five years of age as per ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2021’ report.
|Must Read: Food fortification in India – Explained|
Work done by ICAR
- Scientists at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have been developing biofortified crops in India with a view to eradicate malnutrition.
- As per the ICAR website, they had developed 21 varieties of biofortified staples including wheat, rice, maize, millets, mustard, groundnut by 2019-20.
- These biofortified crops have 1.5 to 3 times higher levels of protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids compared to the traditional varieties.
- These varieties are not genetically modified rather they have been developed through conventional crop breeding techniques.
National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute
- The National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute in Mohali has also developed biofortified coloured wheat (black, blue, purple) that is rich in zinc and anthocyanins.
The HarvestPlus programme
- The HarvestPlus programme of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research is working with ICAR, state agricultural universities (SAUs), the international centres of CGIAR, seed companies and farmer organisations.
- It aims to accelerate production and improve the access of the poor in India to iron-rich pearl millet and zinc-rich wheat.
Malnutrition, is a multidimensional problem. Nutritious food is only a part of it. Hence, it requires a multipronged approach.
The correct approach
- Nutrition is just one part of the malnutrition challenge. Poor access to safe drinking water and sanitation (especially toilets), low levels of immunization and education, especially of women are other determinants of nutrition.
- About 50% of the rural population does not have safe and adequate drinking water within premises.
- About 15% of schools still lack access to basic infrastructure (electricity, drinking water and sanitation).
- The average annual school dropout rate at the secondary level (Class 9-10) is still 18 percent (as per the Niti Aayog’s SDG Index for the year 2020).
All this calls for a multipronged approach to address the pressing problem of malnutrition.
- Improving mother’s education: There is a direct correlation between mothers’ education and the wellbeing of children. Children with mothers who have no education have the least diversified diets and suffer from stunting and wasting and are anaemic. Hence, targeted programmes for improving the educational status of girls and reducing the school dropout rates, particularly at the secondary and higher educational levels, need to be promoted.
- Increasing expenditure on agri R&D: Innovations in biofortified food can alleviate malnutrition only when they are scaled up with supporting policies. This would require steps like, increasing expenditure on agri-R&D, incentivizing farmers by linking their produce to lucrative markets through sustainable value chains and distribution channels etc.
- Private participation– The government can also rope in the private sector to create a market segment for premium-quality biofortified foods to cater to high-end consumers.
- Creating awareness– A national awareness drive on the lines of the “Salt Iodisation Programme” was launched by the government in 1962 to replace ordinary salt with iodised salt which can play an important role at the individual and community levels.
Terms to know