Tackling Malnutrition with Biofortification
In the Global Hunger Index, India has ranked at 103rd position among 119 countries. It is continuous focus on calories rather than nutritional aspects of diet which has led to this distressed state. According to the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18 and the SRS 2018 data, 34.7% of the children are stunted, 17.3% are wasted and 33.4% are underweight.
The three indicators of four indicators of the GHI index deal with nutrition and they go beyond just meeting calorie requirements. Thus it means a balanced diet with all micronutrients is required. It is the hidden hunger which we need to remove and not just hunger.
Options to be considered
Food supplements which are micronutrient rich or fortified products appear to provide a solution. Another option could be implementation of a communication program to motivate people to change their food habits and shift to more nutrient rich foods. However, this may be a costly as well as time consuming option. The third is consumption of diversified diets, but it doesn’t seem to be possible in the short term due to people’s food habits.
Biofortification offers a viable option to mitigate malnutrition with the development and dissemination of micro-nutrient rich crops. It is a simple and economical option. Enriching staple crops with required micronutrients can help reduce the lack of vital nutrients . With a one time R&D, biofortified seeds could be used in the existing seed distribution systems. They can be grown by farmers even with limited rescuers, since they don’t need to repeat purchase , they can use a part of the produce of seeds for the next year. The adoption of the seeds will depend on the efficiency of the seed distribution system.
Consumers also needs to educated about malnutrition and the availability of such cereals at an affordable price. It is essential to spread awareness in the consumer as their acceptance will influence the farmer’s adoption decisions and vice-versa.
Government initiatives like POSHAN Abhiyan, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana and Schemes like ICDS have been able to provide food for people. However, it is time to move beyond providing food and address the real hunger.