The Indian Government has asked all states to include millet in school meals as it is more nutritious than the wheat or rice-based meals.
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Malnutrition accounts for 45% of deaths among children aged under five. To help change this, research institute Icrisat is working with smallholder farmers to grow more nutritious, resilient and diverse food.
Globally, 29% of children under five are stunted. This is as high as 50% in parts of India. This is largely due to micro-nutrient deficiencies, especially of vitamin A, iodine, iron and zinc. Education about nutrition and access to nutrient-rich cereals, tubers and leafy vegetables can help address the problem. Processing and cooking must also be considered as this has a big influence on the level of nutrients absorbed by the body.
Women make up the majority of smallholder farmers. Women's access to land, training and better seed variety are central to improving nutrition. Helping women gain more control over household income and spending often means better feeding and childcare, as well as better understanding of nutrition.
An integrated approach to improving nutrition is being tested in Mali with initiatives including health training in areas like breastfeeding, hygiene, malaria prevention and diet.
Women are trained in dietary diversification, food processing methods for best nutrient retention. Fermentation of wholegrain cereals increases nutrients and sorghum and millet are best mixed with traditional ingredients like groundnut, baobab and moringa.
Diversifying farming to include more nutritious and resilient crops such as protein-rich, soil fertility boosting legumes like chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnuts, can buffer communities against drought and malnutrition.
Women's associations with access to communal land and water harvesting systems can grow a range of nutritious fruits and vegetables. These not only provide essential vitamins and minerals, but boost incomes as produce is sold on the market.
Nutrition and agricultural education works best when spread through community members. NGOs like Digital Green train farmers to make their own videos to share good practice. Photos and text: Alina Paul Bossuet, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. Photos were taken in Ethiopia, Mali and India
We help bring diversity and highly nutritious foods into the farms and
the diets of the rural people. Millets, including sorghum, are particularly important
due to their high levels of iron, zinc and calcium – typically lacking in poor communities
and especially important for women and children. We also specialize in legumes,
which are an important and affordable source of protein.
A friend in the international nutrition community once narrated me an interesting interaction with few tribals in their project area. While making the villagers aware about the benefits of traditional foods like millets for a healthy living...
Across Africa the diets are changing. Twenty years ago rice was not a very common food in Africa. It was bought and consumed on occasions because the price was high. But the price of rice coming from the East, is cheap and is comparable to some of the cereals. Because of the low price, there was a big move towards rice consumption. Also, the countries in Africa have developed irrigation schemes and the local production is converting to rice.