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South Asia's new superfood or just fishy business?

Pawan Patil's picture
Across South Asia, four known species of indigenous, fully mature, small food-fish – now dubbed ‘NutriFish’ have nutritional and health benefits for pregnant and lactating women and young children when consumed over the first one thousand days. Here, children from Kothi, Odisha in India show their curiosity and share their excitement with a new kind of harvest happening in their village. Credit: Arun Padiyar
Kale, Kefir, and Quinoa have now joined the ranks of better-known foods like Blueberries, Orange Sweet Potato, and Salmon on family dinner tables across the world.

Considered superior for their health and nutrition benefits, these so-called ‘Superfoods’, often considered “new” by the public are now ever-popularized by celebrity chefs and have become all the rage of foodies from San Francisco to Singapore.   

We live in a world of paradox, where old world and almost forgotten food like Quinoa (which dates back as a staple food over three thousand years to Andean civilization but largely disappeared with the arrival of the Spanish) is now back on the menu.  

Salmon, a staple part of Nordic diets from paleolithic times and woven into the culture of native populations across northwestern Canada and many other superfoods share comparable stories.

And, there are many other old world foods, indigenously known, disappearing but not fully forgotten, yet to be re-discovered.

Food is also now advancing to the front-line of the war on poverty

A health and human capital crisis is now sweeping the world, and a lack of diverse, accessible, affordable, and available nourishing foods is increasingly blamed.  

For example, obesity, from poor diet and poor exercise has tripled since 1975 to almost two billion people today.  

Undernutrition contributes to 45 percent of all deaths of children under five years old (3.5 million each year), much of it avoidable, but difficult to detect as it remains “hidden.”  

Policy makers and stewards of national economies are starting to wake up to the fact that poor nutrition has massive economic implications too, reducing GDP by 3-11 percent, depending on the country. 

While economies such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan may look strong, just as bellies look full, critical micronutrients and vitamins, essential for healthy physical and cognitive development over the first 1,000 days of life are largely missing from diets of many developing countries and are a proven drag to educational attainment and economic prosperity.  

And parents, from both rich and poor nations alike, seem to know something is not quite right. 

If healthier food choices that are accessible, affordable, and readily available are better known, would parents purchase such food from the market for their families?     

With a small grant from the World Bank-administered South Asia Food and Nutrition Initiative (SAFANSI) supported by the EU and the United Kingdom, a partnership with WorldFish was established to test this premise.  

A 60 second TV spot, a collaboration between scientists, economists, a private sector digital media company, broadcasters and the Government of Bangladesh, was created and broadcast across the nation on two occasions and watched by over 25 million people.  

A parallel radio program was also developed and aired reaching millions more, particularly the rural poor and marginalized communities.
 
NutriFish1000 TV

 

Reclaiming India's wastelands to fight climate change

Abel Lufafa's picture
 Abel Lufafa
Indian farmers showing off former wasteland that now produces crops. India's agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate threats. Reclaiming and bringing into production some of India’s wastelands could partially offset some of the projected crop production declines expected because of climate change. Credit: Abel Lufafa

About 15 minutes after we turn off the highway at Fatehpur, a roadside trading center located 120 km from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, a mild haze blankets the sky.

As we drive deeper into the increasingly bare and desolate landscape, the wind blows stronger, and the haze thickens into dust plumes.

I lower the car window and find the source of the dust:  patches of abandoned land, coated with very fine powder in various shades of white and grey.

We are in a village with salt-affected soils, part of the millions of hectares of India’s wastelands.

Characterized by dense, impermeable surface crusts and accumulation of certain elements at levels that are toxic to plants, these sodic wastelands no longer support crop growth – they have been abandoned by farmers.

Our journey continues for another 30 minutes, the wind still blows strong, but dust plumes have given way to clearer skies.

We have reached Mainpuri, where, with World Bank support, sodic wastelands have been reclaimed and brought back to life, rolling back the unsavory spectacle of ecological destruction that once was the hallmark of the village.

Now in its third phase, the Uttar Pradesh Sodic Lands Reclamation Project (UPSLRP) has supported the reclamation of over 400,000 ha of such sodic wastelands and 25,000 ha of ravinous wasteland.

Milk fortification in India: The journey so far

Edward W. Bresnyan's picture
 NDDB
In India alone, 185 million people don’t get enough nutrients. This hidden hunger is especially pervasive among children. as more than 70 percent of India’s children under five are deficient in Vitamin D, and 57 percent of all children in the country lack adequate levels of Vitamin A. Credit: NDDB
Globally, more than two billion people are deficient in key micronutrients, which are essential to their good health.
 
In India alone, 185 million people don’t get enough nutrients.
 
This hidden hunger is especially pervasive among children. More than 70 percent of India’s children under five are deficient in Vitamin D, and 57 percent of all children in the country lack adequate levels of Vitamin A. 
 
These deficiencies have contributed to high levels of stunting, wasting and underweight children.
 UNICEF 
Global micronutrient deficiency (as a percentage of the population). Two billion people in the world lack key micronutrients such as Vitamin A or iron. South Asia has the most critical malnutrition levels. Source: UNICEF 


Micronutrient availability can make or break a balanced diet
 
If accessible and affordable, nutritional supplements taken in the form of capsules or tablets can mitigate the symptoms of hidden hunger. But they can become toxic if consumed in large amounts.  
 
Unlike supplements, food fortification is a simple, preventive and low-cost approach to curb micronutrient deficiencies.
 
But except for mandatory iodine fortification of salt, India lags in adopting food fortification as a scalable public health intervention.  
 
This is a missed opportunity as a glass of fortified milk (320g) can provide approximately 34 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A and 47 percent of Vitamin D.
 
In 2016, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India released standards for the fortification of five staple food items: rice, wheat, salt, oil, and milk. Further to that, regulations are now in place to fortify milk variants such as low fat, skimmed, and whole milk with Vitamin A and D.   
 
But despite its significant health benefits, and while established for more than three decades by companies such as Mother Dairy, a subsidiary of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), milk fortification is not yet common practice across the Indian milk industry.
 
To fill that gap, NDDB partnered in 2017 with the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), the World Bank, and The India Nutrition Initiative, Tata Trusts to explore the possibilities of large-scale milk fortification in India.
 
Over the last twelve months, this collaboration has enabled ten milk federations, dairy producer companies, and milk unions across the country to pilot milk fortification for their consumers. Fifteen others have initiated the process.

Game-changing technology empowers India’s women farmers

Paramveer Singh's picture
 World Bank
Since it started a decade ago, JEEVIKA, a World Bank program that supports Bihar’s rural communities, has mobilized more than nine million women into self-help and producers groups. Joining forces has helped lower costs and boost agricultural production. Credit: World Bank

It’s a dusty September morning, and Kiran Devi is finishing her chores at lightning speed.

 “Wouldn’t it be nice to keep 5,000 women waiting, especially when it’s a celebration,” she says with a touch of gushing pride and makes her way to the annual general meeting of the women-owned Aaranyak Agri producer company.

Located in Purnea district in Bihar—one of India’s poorest states—the company is made up of small local women small farmers and producers and lies in the most fertile corn regions in eastern India.

But until recently, small farmers did not fully reap the benefits of this productive land.

Local traders and intermediaries dominated the unregulated market. Archaic and unfair trading practices like manual weighing, unscientific quality testing, and irregular payments made it difficult for small farmers to get the best value for their produce.

 “The trader would come, put some grains under his teeth and pronounce the quality and pricing. For every quintal of maize [corn], 5-10 kilos additional grains were taken, sometimes through faulty scales and sometimes simply by brazenly asking for it,” says Lal Devi, one member of the company. “We had the choice between getting less or getting nothing.”
 

Kanchan Rani Devi bringing her corn to Sameli
Kanchan Rani Devi bringing her corn to Sameli. Credit: World Bank

Such practices stirred local women farmers into action, and they formed the Aaranyak Agri Producer Company Limited (AAPC) to access markets directly and improve their bargaining power.  

The company established a farmer-centric model and received funding and technical assistance through JEEViKA (livelihoods in Hindi), a World Bank program that supports the Government of Bihar and has achieved life-changing results for Bihar’s rural communities.

Since it started a decade ago, JEEVIKA has mobilized more than nine million women into self-help and producers groups. Joining forces helped lower costs and boost production. Together, the groups saved $120 million and leveraged more than $800 million in bank loans.

Further, digital technologies have been introduced as an innovative way to improve the production, marketing, and sale of small-farmers’ produce.

For example, women farmers receive regular periodic updates on their mobile phones to learn best practices to grow corn as well as weather information to inform farming decisions.

During harvest season, farmers receive daily pricing information from major nearby markets to help them stay abreast of the latest variations in prices.

Brazil’s small farmers offer lessons to India

Priti Kumar's picture
Angela, on the far left and dressed in red, is a small-holder farmer and entrepreneur in Brazil. She started a banana business that expanded to packed lunches for truckers, college students, and travelers. Credit Priti Kumar/World Bank

“Once, it was a rodeo day here and my son asked for money to go. But I didn’t have the money and told him to sell our farm’s bananas on the road instead. So, he took 50 bunches of bananas and sold them all in a few hours. Soon I started a banana business. The sales enabled me to expand my business to packed lunches for truckers. Over time, with the help of my family, the road administration, and my own investments, I started receiving invitations to make meals for college students and travelers.”

Angela, small-holder farmer and entrepreneur, São Paolo, Brazil.

 
Angela told us her story one afternoon as we ate the delicious lunch she had prepared for us at her rather humble roadside eatery in rural São Paulo, Brazil.

Her story was not only touching but also summed up the importance of entrepreneurial foresight and the power that collaboration holds in opening new doors for poor farming communities.
 
India and Brazil have much in common. Both have smallholder farmers - called family farmers in Brazil - (although these farmers make up a much smaller proportion of Brazil’s overall farming community and have a different landholding structure).

Yet Brazil, like many other Latin American countries, has been able to promote commercial agriculture and raise farmers’ incomes by creating collectives, comprised mainly of family farmers.
 
Even though family farmers represent a small slice of Brazil’s cooperatives, the impact of their collectives is considerable.

Often referred to as the “breadbasket of the world”, half of Brazil’s food comes from its 1,500 plus agricultural co-operatives, which employ more than 360,000 people.

The productivity of Brazil’s agriculture is evident.

With only 15% of Brazil’s population living in rural areas, more than 20% of its GDP comes from the agriculture sector.

 In India, on the other hand, 66% of the people live in rural areas while just 15% of GDP comes from agriculture.
 
Brazil’s success in making agriculture more market-oriented and raising farmer incomes holds many lessons for India.

For many years now, India has recorded a surplus in most critical agricultural commodities. 

Yet, farmers’ incomes continue to be subdued.

To help farmers earn more from the land and move onto a higher trajectory of growth, India has gradually shifted its policy focus to linking farmers to markets, as well as enabling them to diversify their production and add value to their produce.
 
So how do Brazil’s farmer collectives work?

Commitment to reforms improves business climate in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture
 
Rikweda, an Afghan fruit processing company in the Kabul Province is well on its way to restoring Afghanistan as a raisin exporting powerhouse—a status the country held until the 1970s when it claimed about 20 percent of the global market. Credit World Bank


Imagine a state-of-the-art processing plant that harnesses laser-sorting technology to produce a whopping 15,000 tons of raisins a year, linking up thousands of local farmers to international markets and providing job opportunities to women.
 
To find such a world-class facility, look no further than Rikweda, an Afghan fruit processing company in the Kabul Province that’s well on its way to restoring Afghanistan as a raisin exporting powerhouse—a status the country held until the 1970s when it claimed about 20 percent of the global market.
 
In Afghanistan’s volatile business environment, let alone its deteriorating security, Rikweda’s story is an inspiration for budding entrepreneurs and investors.
 
It also is an illustration of the government’s reform efforts to create more opportunities for Afghan businesses to open and grow, which were reflected in the country’s record advancement in the Doing Business 2019 index, launched today by the World Bank.
 
Despite the increasing conflicts and growing fragility, and thanks to a record five reforms that have moved Afghanistan up to the rank of 167th from 183rd last year, the country became a top improver for the first time in the report’s history.
 
And Afghanistan is not the only South Asian country this year that took a prominent place among top 10 improvers globally.
 
India – which holds the title for the second consecutive year – is a striking example of how persistence pays off, and the high-level ownership and championship of reforms are critical for success. Its ranking has improved by 23 places this year and puts India ahead of all other countries in South Asia. This year, India is ranked 77th, up from 100th last year. 

Five takeaways for better nutrition in South Asia—and beyond

Felipe F. Dizon's picture
In many developing countries, governments and health authorities face the dilemma of how to feed their growing population while ensuring their food is nutritious. Credit: World Bank

Together with more than 1,500 academics, scientists, and policymakers, we participated last week in the Rice Olympics.
 
The event—formally known as the International Rice Congress (IRC)—provides a unique window on the latest innovations and policies about the globe’s most important staple crop.
 
For many, rice may not seem worth the cost of a conference trip. Yet, half of the world’s population depend on it as their main supply of nutrients and energy.  
 
Rice isn’t just a crop,” said Rajan Garjaria, Executive Vice President for Business Platforms at Corteva Agriscience. “It’s a way of life. A place can be made or broken, based on their rice crop.
 
The Congress discussed a breadth of topics, but what stood out the most is that rice can be instrumental in making people healthier and in sustaining the planet.
 
The South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), a World Bank partnership that aims to improve food and nutrition security across the region, participated in the Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems and Diets and presented its latest research on linkages among food prices, diet quality, and nutrition security.  
 
Overall, the event underscored how governments and health authorities in many developing countries face the dilemma of how to feed their growing population while ensuring their food is nutritious and discussed relevant strategies to transform nutrition security challenges into opportunities.

Budding entrepreneurs in rural Bihar

Vinay Kumar Vutukuru's picture

Agricultural entrepreneurship

Rahul Kumar is a 25-year-old community extension worker at Jeevika in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. He set up an agri-business enterprise six months ago and it’s turned out to be quite a success. Kumar earned more than INR 180,000 ($2,700) in barely one month during the rainy season crop cycle, also known as Kharif crop in India. What’s more, he sold quality seeds and other agriculture inputs to more than 150 farmers during that period, helping them save over INR 50,000. “Whatever I could earn as a Village Resource Person (VRP) over a period of one year, I managed to earn that much as an agri-entrepreneur in just one month,” said Kumar.
 
A three-way partnership between JEEViKA (a Government of Bihar supported program for economic empowerment), Syngenta Foundation India (a civil society organization working towards enhancing farmers’ incomes) and the National Institute of Rural development & Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR), an academic institution helped Kumar and his farmer friends achieve a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes.
 
In this partnership, NIRDPR provided training to the budding entrepreneurs under the overall technical support of SFI, who provided on-the-ground hand-holding and mentoring support. JEEViKA provided the institutional platform from where promising local youths were identified, selected and incubated to work as entrepreneurs. The community organizations, in many cases, also provided the initial credit for seed capital to these entrepreneurs to start their agri-business ventures. 

Pathal Ram, a small farmer from the same village said, “If I could get good quality seeds and other inputs at my home, what is the point of going to the market? It saves my time and money. I could use this time in my field for better cultivation.”

Moving India’s railways into the future

Joe Qian's picture
Laying Tracks
Progress is being made on the largest railway project in India's modern history – the Dedicated Freight Corridor Program. 
View the 3D presentation here
Thump…thump…thump...like a slow rhythmic drum, concrete ties that hold the track in place are laid down one after another with the latest machinery as rails are placed precisely on top of them.

It’s nearing sunset near the town of Hathras in India’s state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 220 million people—more than the entire population of Brazil.

Progress is being made on the largest railway project in India’s modern history that will increase prosperity by helping move people and goods more safely, effectively, and in an environmentally-friendly way.
India’s Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) program is building dedicated freight-only railway lines along highly congested transport corridors connecting the industrial heartland in the north to the ports of Kolkata and Mumbai on the eastern and western coasts.
India Trains
Passengers and freight trains currently share tracks in India which can cause congestion and delays. The project will help increase the speed of freight rail to up to 100km/h from the current 25km/h average. 

Through these efforts, DFC is expected to improve transport and trade logistics – bringing much needed jobs, connectivity, and urbanization opportunities to some of India’s poorest provinces – including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh while helping protect the environment. The electric locomotives will help ease India’s energy security issues and escalating concerns about traffic accidents, congestion, carbon emissions, and pollution created by road traffic. 

Near Hathras and simultaneously in different sites in the country, workers equipped with modern equipment and techniques efficiently lay 1.5 km of new track per day in different weather conditions. Once completed, electric cables are stretched above and signaling is installed, all in preparation for the electric locomotives reliably to carry their cargo across the country at maximum speed of 100km/h, compared to an average current speed of 25 km/h.

Finishing the job of ending poverty in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture
This Bangladeshi woman was born in poverty. With the right kind of education, life in poverty quickly became a story from the past for her. Credit: World Bank

"I have a four-year-old son back in my village. I want to make a better life for him,” says Sharmin Akhtar, a 19-year-old employee in one of Dhaka’s many flourishing garment factories.

Like thousands of other poor women, Sharmin came down to Bangladesh’s capital from her village in the country’s north to seek a better job and create a more prosperous future for her family—leaving behind a life of crushing poverty.

Today, as we mark End Poverty Day 2018, it’s important to note that Sharmin’s heartening story is one of many in Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia, where economic growth has spurred a dramatic decline in extreme poverty in the last 25 years.

And the numbers are striking: In South Asia, the number of extreme poor living on less than $1.90 a day dropped to 216 million people in 2015 from 275 million in 2013 and 536 million in 1990.

Even more remarkable, South Asian countries experienced an increase in incomes among the poorest 40 percent of 2.6 percent a year between 2010-2015, faster than the global average of 1.9 percent.

On a global scale, the highest concentration of poor shifted from South Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012. And India is likely to be overtaken, if it has not already been, by Nigeria as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty.

It’s worth thinking about how far South Asia has come – but remaining clear-eyed about how far we must go to finish the fight against extreme poverty.

Indeed, it is increasingly clear that poverty is more entrenched and harder to root out in certain areas, particularly in rural areas and in countries burdened by violent conflict and weak institutions.

Estimates for 2015 indicate that India, with 176 million poor people, continued to have the highest number of people in poverty and accounted for nearly a quarter of the global poor.

True, the extreme poverty rate is significantly lower in India relative to the average rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. But because of its large population, India’s total number of poor is still large.

And while there has been a substantial decline in the numbers and rate of people living below $1.90 in South Asia, the number of people living on less than $3.20 has declined by only 8 percent over 1990-2015 because of the growing population.

In 2015, 49 percent of the population of South Asia were living on less than $3.20 a day, and 80 percent were living on less than $5.50 a day.

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