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Diet diversification program for tribal women and children to be scaled up in South India

Enthused by positive nutritional outcomes among children and women in its first phase, activities of the Giri Poshana diet diversification program in Telangana, India, are set to be scaled up to benefit more of the state’s tribal population. Two years after it began, the Government of Telangana and ICRISAT’s Giri Poshana diet diversification program has shown how scientifically prepared traditional foods using millets, sorghum and pulses can significantly improve key nutritional parameters among children and women.

A recently initiated end-line survey concluded the first phase of the intervention in Integrated Tribal Development Agencies (ITDAs) of Bhadrachalam and Eturnagaram.

Before start of the program, a baseline survey showed that a quarter of the children in the surveyed group were stunted and wasted while a similar number of pregnant women were anemic.

To promote dietary diversity and ultimately improve nutritional outcomes, ICRISAT designed and implemented the diet intervention program by providing a combination of ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat meals to 7,400 children and women attending 416 Anganwadi centers (childcare centers in rural India where mothers are also involved) in the three ITDA areas. The meals include multigrain meal, sorghum (jowar) meal, multigrain sweet meal, nutri-cookies, energy bar and Jowar Bytes (a sorghum snack).

The supplemental food that was introduced in Telangana to combat malnutrition. Photo: ICRISAT

Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Chief Operations Officer, NutriPlus Knowledge (NPK) Program, which is a part of ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP), stated, “We found that children aged 3 to 6 in the target group were improving their wasting (low weight-for-age) and stunting (low height-for-age) scores. The percentage of mildly anemic pregnant women was also reduced significantly. This was observed during a midline survey of the project beneficiaries in January this year.”

“I was unable to go to the Anganwadi center or the market due to the lockdown. So, we got the Giri Poshana food as take-home ration. Every day, I serve the food to my children. It is nutritious and keeps them healthy,” said Ms Sudi Gowthami, mother of a Giri Poshana beneficiary from Bhadrachalam.

After COVID-19 hit and lockdown began, the ready-to-cook foods were replaced with ready-to-eat foods (ragi jaggery cookies, peanut fried gram chikki and millet flakes mixture) in order to continue the feeding program.

“Children are having holidays due to the pandemic. Ravva (semolina), sweet meal and peanut chikki was delivered to our homes directly. Our children are healthy and gaining weight,” said Ms Choulam Ramadhevi, a mother of beneficiary children in Kannaigudem village.

Ms Ramadevi, a pregnant woman in Allapally block who used to attend the Raipadu Anganwadi center, said that the nutritious food has helped remain healthy during pregnancy. “There are six types of food viz. khichidi (porridge), sweet meal, peanut chikki, jowar kukure (crisps) and multigrain cookies. I gained weight and health by eating them. Cooking instructions for each type were explained by the Anganwadi teacher,” she said.

Foods for the intervention were developed based on consumption and cooking preferences, ease of production, ease of handling and distribution especially in emergency/pandemic situations. The need for products with enhanced shelf lives in remote tribal locations and availability of crops locally to ensure that the tribal communities are self-reliant in producing these foods also guided the development of the meals.

With the intervention showing improvement in dietary diversity and nutritional outcomes among tribal children and women, the Department of Tribal Welfare, Government of Telangana, and ICRISAT have now planned to scale up the intervention to cover additional populations in the ITDA areas. ICRISAT is also operationalizing eight food processing units to be run as sustainable business enterprises by tribal women-led collectives in the ITDAs to locally produce and supply these nutritious foods as part of its scale-up strategy.

For more on our work in the area of nutrition, click here.

This article was first published in ICRISAT Happenings October 23, 2020.

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