Holidays for me have always been about family and food. A time to relax, catch-up with loved ones and eat good food. When it’s our turn to cook, my husband and I take time to plan the menu. A central part of our meals are vegetables and fresh fruits but we have also learnt over the years that a good meal needs fresh ingredients, all procured as close to the preparation of the meal as possible.
Sri Lanka has not disappointed in its array of fruits and vegetables. I am still discovering the names of many; some of which I will never be able to pronounce for sure. Despite that, I love eating them!
Amongst my favourites are papaya, mangoes and kankun, the last for which I share a passion with my two pet turtles. But getting these vegetables and fruits from the same supplier on a constant basis is a challenge. Even common produce like onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers can be discoloured or squishy – not at all appetizing or conducive for a salad or other such type of fresh dish.
The price, of course, is the same whatever the quality. Fresh produce can be expensive, and regularly buying a variety of fruits and vegetables does strain the budgets of many families in Sri Lanka. Needless to say, this shouldn’t be the case in a country with such rich soils and plentiful sunshine.
The question of access to fresh and healthy food goes beyond our holiday tables. According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 5 premature deaths in Sri Lanka are due to a non-communicable disease (NCD) such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer. Tobacco use, unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity have all been identified as risk factors.
Yet, these deficiencies -- often referred to as ‘hidden hunger’ -- go largely unnoticed and affect large populations.
Night blindness, a condition afflicting millions of pregnant women and children, stems from low intake of foods rich in essential nutrients like Vitamin A.
Budget constraints limit access to nutrient-rich foods for many families, who are unaware or unable to afford a nutritious diet.
National programs help supplement diets with Iron and Vitamin, but their scope is too narrow to adequately address these deficiencies.
Fortified Milk Helps Increase Vitamins Intake
When fortified with vitamin A and D, milk, which remains a staple for many Indians, can help alleviate dietary deficiencies when supplementation is not available.
Food fortification is a relatively simple, powerful and cost-effective approach to curb micronutrient deficiencies. It is in general socially accepted and requires minimal change in existing food habits.
The process is inexpensive and costs about 2 paisa per liter or about one-tenth of a cent. And because it only adds a fraction of daily recommended nutrients, the process is considered safe.
For these reasons, food fortification has been successfully scaled up in some emerging economies.
However, except for salt fortification with iodine, India has not yet achieved large-scale food fortification.
With India’s rapidly growing dairy industry, large-scale milk fortification of Vitamins A and D is a robust vehicle for increasing micronutrients intake across the population.
The state of Madhya Pradesh in India is largely vegetarian with limited consumption of eggs and meat.
While these dietary preferences are commonplace in other Indian states, Madhya Pradesh is facing a protein deficiency epidemic which threatens the long term health of its population.
How did it get there?
In 2015 I spent five weeks in rural and tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh evaluating the World Bank’s Madhya Pradesh District Poverty Intervention Project (MPDPIP II), with the support of the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI)
Across the 8 districts I visited, families shared how they had improved their agricultural productivity, started backyard kitchen gardening, and supplemented their income through dairy and poultry farming, collective procurement and small scale enterprises.
As I examined local village level health records, Anganwadi Center (AWC) registers, Auxiliary Nurse and Midwife (ANM) registers and Primary Health Center (PHC) documents, I noticed a reduction in severe malnutrition and severe anemia among pregnant women and under 5-year-old children.
However, this decrease did not extend to moderate or mild malnutrition and anemia.
During a recent visit to Barsam village in the Saharsa district of Bihar, I talked with members of a women’s self-help group - one of over 480,000 such groups formed under Jeevika, a rural livelihoods program supported by the World Bank in Bihar.
Among the group was nineteen year old Shobha. Like millions of girls across the country, Shobha had never been to school. She was married at fifteen, and now has a ten-month old daughter. Shobha sat among us, cradling little Anjali on her lap.
I was happy to hear that, when she was pregnant, Shobha enrolled herself at the local Aanganwadi center which offered nutrition and health services for both mother and child under a public program. At the center, Shobha learnt how to care for Anjali. As a result, the child was exclusively breastfed for six months and received all the necessary immunizations. Now the little girl is being correctly fed a diverse diet of vegetables, pulses, cereals and animal milk, while continuing to be breastfed.
But my happiness was only momentary. As we talked, it emerged that Anjali was only being given a spoonful or two at most of these foods. While the amounts were far from adequate, Shobha thought they were enough for a child of Anjali’s age. And, all the other women agreed.
“India has the maximum number of young people and these young people will enter the labor market in the next two decades.” These words by the World Bank’s Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer Sri Mulyani Indrawati at the Malaviya National Institute of Technology campus, Jaipur, on September 23, 2015, had all of us listening with rapt attention.
“Bye sir!” Rahul was running ahead into the distance. It was hard for me to imagine how he could be running… The cracked soil was incredibly hot and extended all the way to what looked like a lake in the distance. It was not a lake…it was a mirage.
“He wants to be a doctor,” said his mother, who was walking next to me. “His sister does not know yet. She is only 2...”
When I came home from my visit to Gujarat, where we met Rahul Kalubhai Koli in Dhrangadhra in Surendranagar district, I could not stop thinking about him. He is 4 1/2, and he wants to be a doctor.
2011 Flagship: More and Better Jobs in South Asia
Thursday, September 22, 2011 from 2:30PM to 4:30PM
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Communities and Human Settlements
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Law and Regulation
- Macroeconomics and Economic Growth
- Private Sector Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Science and Technology Development
- Social Development
- Labor and Social Protection
- More and Better Jobs