02 November 2022, India: A new project partnership between the Happel Foundation and HarvestPlus is increasing the nutritional quality of school meals for two million children in India. The nearly four-year project will also bring much-needed nutrition and livelihood benefits to an additional 20,000 farming households, who will be supported to produce biofortified grain and guaranteed procurement of their harvests into the school food system.
The Indian government implements a Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS), the largest school feeding program in the world—reaching 120 million children aged 6-10 years old daily with a free cooked meal. And yet, Indian children suffer from the highest rates of undernourishment in the world. Malnutrition in early life is associated with poor life-long outcomes, including decreased productivity and higher prevalence of nutrition-related chronic diseases.
School meals provide vital nourishment for childhood growth and good health and have been shown to incentivize children to stay longer in school and, for girls, to marry and give birth later. Recent research shows the MDMS program can also halt the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition: children born to women who ate school meals have better growth outcomes than those born to mothers who did not.
HarvestPlus and the Happel Foundation have come together on the “Health and Nutrition for School-Age Children” (HaNSA) project to improve the nutrient-density of school meals in six states, by integrating foods made with biofortified iron pearl millet and zinc wheat through local supply chains.
Evidence shows that regularly eating iron pearl millet reverses iron deficiency, improves cognitive outcomes, and improves physical activity—factors essential for success at school. Zinc is essential to immune system functioning, and eating zinc wheat can lower the days children spend sick with illness.
“By joining hands with the Happel Foundation, we are staged to empower communities in India in the fight against malnutrition. Improving the nutritional quality of school meals has the power to transform young lives, helping children reach their full potential,” said Arun Baral, CEO of HarvestPlus. “By taking a seed-to-plate approach, we know this project will benefit farmers and children alike.”
The Happel Foundation follows the principle of “help for self-help” by promoting sustainable improvement in people’s lives. It is through living by this principle, that the project is setting out to train and connect 20,000 farmers with school feeding supply chains. This will activate a market for farmers producing nutrient-enriched varieties of biofortified iron pearl millet and zinc wheat, stimulating improvements in livelihoods while helping to alleviate hidden hunger among school children.
Speaking about the new partnership, Alexander Lanz, Managing Director from the Happel Foundation said, “HarvestPlus’ approach of rallying the entire community towards alleviating malnutrition synergizes well with Happel’s goals of ensuring food security and supporting entrepreneurship.”
The HaNSA project responds to the Government of India’s nutrition strategy (2020), which emphasizes the need to implement food-based solutions to address nutrition insecurity. The long-term vision for the project is to provide a roadmap to scale up this community-led nutritious approach across India to the entire MDMS, investing in the power of local farmers to supply nutrition to fuel millions of young minds across the country.
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