Achieving Healthy Growth through Agriculture and Nutrition

Malnourishment in children, particularly undernourishment, manifests as low birth weight, early stunting and wasting among infants and children below the age of two years. World Health Organization statistics showed that India had the largest number of stunted children aged less than five years, nearly 61.7 million, in 2013[i]. Rates of malnutrition among India’s children are almost five times higher than those in China, and twice those in Sub?Saharan Africa[ii]. The Rapid Survey on Children National Report, 2013-2014 found that 39 percent of the sampled children were stunted, 15 percent were wasted and 29 percent were underweight[iii].

Poverty, nutritional deficiencies, inadequate feeding practices, and low socioeconomic status of women are among many important factors contributing to this alarming health crisis. Therefore, it is of foremost importance to fund Indian investigators proposing to test innovations that empower women and span multiple fields including nutritional science, agricultural practices, business and social practices.

PMU-BIRAC announced the first Grand Challenges grant program Achieving Healthy Growth through Agriculture and Nutrition in August, 2013  This program targeted healthy birth, growth, development, and agricultural productivity to expand a global network of scientists working on similar issues, increasing opportunities for exchanging ideas and lessons learned. The goal of this was to capture diverse types of innovations to improve women’s and children’s health, nutritional status and agricultural productivity.

The research agenda was to support a comprehensive set of approaches spanning multiple fields of innovation to reduce the high incidence of low birth weight (LBW), early stunting and wasting in Indian children less than 2 years of age, and prevent under-nutrition in women of reproductive age and in children from 0?2 years of age.

The initiative funded a portfolio of 5 Indian?led pilot projects that sought to target the relationship between agriculture, nutrition, and health to reduce the high incidence of low birth weight, early stunting and wasting among Indian infants and aims at empowering women, through interventions, in their multiple family roles.

  • Designing on-farm participatory models of Integrated Farming Systems for enhancement of household diet diversity and livelihoods of women small holder farmers, from Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu.

The project intended to propel the adoption of an innovative model of farming; the Integrated Farming System (IFS) in the Chidambaram region. This project aimed to demonstrate the effectiveness this model of farming to help improve agricultural productivity and create avenues for empowerment of women in agriculture in different types of agricultural settings. The project designed a technological intervention for wetland farm clusters involving an innovative mode of integrating fish culture and poultry rearing in rice fields.

An impact assessment demonstrated that there had been some improvement in the nutritional status of the beneficiary women farmers. The blood haemoglobin count of the beneficiary women also increased noticeably in comparison to the control group. There also appeared to be economic gains from the IFS system of farming. An additional revenue of has been generated by the participating beneficiaries. The manurial addition from the animal components and complimentary pest and weed control from animal components of farming system also resulted in reduced agrochemical use.

  • Ensure year-wise nutritional food security to Indian women through community level implementation of Domestic Solar Conduction Dryer (SCD) from Science for Society, Maharashtra

The project was piloted to implement innovative an innovative technology to store food, known as the Solar Conduction Dryer in a district in the state. It had three objectives; to ensure nutritional security for the entire year in form of dehydrated food products; to ensure extra income to women farmers by sale of dehydrated products, and education in post-harvest losses. Fresh fruits and vegetables were processed based on seasonal availability to a dehydrated form in the Solar Conduction Dryer, and were made available through the entire year and were also available for sale through the open market.

Manufacturing of the 200 SCDs was undertaken locally, and was distributed to the 200 women in the experimental group. The women from experimental villages were provided with training by the project to handle the machine and store the dehydrated food safely. The dietary consumption of beneficiaries with blood profiling and nutritional profiling was monitored with the use of Total Daily Intake values for each experimental and control woman.

Results from the study show increased diet diversity of the women in the experimental group and increased economic gain from selling the dehydrated products.

  • VeggieLite – Conjunction of agriculture, nutrition and health for inclusive development of women, from eKutir, Odisha

eKutir, Odisha and their international partners; Wholesome Wave (now referred to as Daisa Enterprises) and the McGill University Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE) piloted an innovative entrepreneurial approach to increase agricultural production, nutritional intake, and overall health in resource-poor groups of rural and urban communities, with a focus on women and children.

The twin intents of this initiative were to first provide economic benefits to the farmers and second, to increase access to nutritious and fresh vegetables to women consumers. VeggieKart procured vegetables daily from the farmers at a fair price, processed them at its central warehouse in the city and distributed it to the consumers through different distribution channels. VeggieKart created a multi-pronged approach to ensure fair and equitable procurement from farmers and also converted unorganized vegetable vendors into branded vegetable entrepreneurs who sell in the city and urban slums of Bhubaneshwar, Orissa.

Impact assessment reports indicate that there was strong evidence of VeggieLite’s nutritional, agricultural and social impacts in rural Odisha as compared to the urban areas. The intervention showed a significant increase in the fruit and vegetable consumption of those women farmers participating in the program. Additionally, in a period when all other farming groups showed a decline in their daily vegetable intake, eKutir farmers experienced the least decline and showed a significantly higher level of vegetable consumption than the other groups at the endline.

  • Digital technology enabled and community-driven integrated agriculture and nutrition intervention to promote maternal and child nutrition in Odisha, from Digital Education, Odisha

Digital Green used the Participatory Learning Action (PLA) approach and promoted the dissemination of a series of nutrition-specific participatory videos to address nutrition-specific behaviors, locally feasible solutions as well as expenditure patterns to improve maternal and child diet quality.

The twin intents of this initiative were to provide interventions in both arms targeted women’s group members and women within 1,000 days of their pregnancy and their child’s second birthday. The project facilitated one community-level consultation workshop involving Anganwadi Worker  (AWWs), Accredited Social Health Activist  (ASHAs), Self Help Group (SHG) representatives, Community Service Provider (CSPs) of the control villages, and Community Research Person (CRPs) to identify broad content themes for video production and dissemination among the control villages.

  • Novel approach to reduce zinc malnutrition in rural women and children through agronomic bio-fortification of food crops, from Amity University, Noida

Zinc (Zn) bio-fortification through foliar Zn application is a more sustainable and economical solution to reduce human Zn deficiency. Genetic bio-fortification and agronomic bio-fortification are two important agricultural tools to improve grain Zn concentration. However, yield factor, interactions between genotype and environment, lack of sufficient genetic diversity in current cultivars for breeding program, consumer resistance and safety of genetically modified crops are the main bottlenecks of genetic biofortification. The traditional and efficient strategy of agronomic biofortification, is a rapid solution for improving Zn concentration in grain to address the ongoing human Zn deficiency.

This study conducted multi-location field trials on wheat crop & rice with zinc fertilization engaging twenty six/five farmers’ fields during Kharif & Rabi growing season during 2014-2016.


[i] The state of the world’s children 2013, Children with disabilities, New York, United Nations Children’s Fund, 2013

[ii] The World Bank, Helping India combat persistently high rates of malnutrition, 2013, May 13, Feature Story.

[iii] Rapid Survey on Children, 2013-2014, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India