Stories tagged: malnutrition

Sprouting Grains for Stronger Bones: The Power of Finger Millet

In this guest blog post, Jerome Bossuet of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) explains the potential that the calcium-rich cereal finger millet has for combatting calcium deficiency around the world.

Calcium is key for growth and we need plenty of it in our daily food from a very young age. Yet, about half the global population, mostly in Asia and Africa, lack calcium in their diet and are prone to many related ailments ranging from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes to bone loss, which leads to crippling osteoporosis at old age.

Scientists from Aberystwyth University, UK and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) recommend biofortifying finger millet, an already calcium-rich dryland cereal grown in India and Africa, to combat this significant micronutrient deficiency.

One woman out of three and one man out of five will be exposed to bone loss and related fractures during their lives and the societal cost is rising fast, both in developed and developing countries. Think of a bone lifesaving account. Children need to get as much calcium as possible during their childhood to prevent osteoporosis which is very difficult to detect at an early stage. In the US, osteoporosis is costing around US$ 17 billion annually.

Different strategies are in place to prevent calcium deficiency with contrasting results. Food fortification e.g. breakfast cereals or flours, may not reach the most vulnerable, while supplementation tablets have well documented side-effects. Eating calcium rich food, like dairy products, seems to be the most efficient way to combat calcium deficiency. However, many cannot switch to dairy because of lactose intolerance, purchasing power or being vegan. Therefore, selecting (biofortifying) and promoting calcium-rich crops has a great potential to combat calcium deficiency. This is where finger millet stands out.

An Indian farmer’s organization in Kolli hills, in Tamil Nadu has been advocating for finger millet (called ragi in India) for years. They grow and market it, they eat it in various ways and value its resilience and health benefits. Here, children eat sprouted finger millet as part of their midday school meal. The group have been  processing and packaging this super grain for urban markets, with the support of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Bioversity International and IFAD.

Photo credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet

Children eating finger millet chappatis at school in India. Photo credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet

This is a survival dryland cereal which can grow with little rain, on poor soils, yet could reach yields of 10 tons per hectare when irrigated. It is the richest source of calcium among cereals, 3 times more than milk and 10 times higher than brown rice or maize. It is traditionally eaten as weaning porridge in some parts of India and Africa.

Under the CGIAR Research Program on Drylands Cereals, a nutrition profiling of hundreds (628) of finger millet varieties in Africa shows great variability in grain quality content. Breeding research has started working on calcium biofortification of finger millet, gaining a better understanding of what environmental factors and genes influence calcium grain richness without impeding its agronomic performance. Finger millet varieties in the pipeline with double the calcium of average varieties (up to 450 mg/100g edible portion) are now being tested by Kenyan and Tanzanian farmers. Dr Ojulong, ICRISAT research scientist working on finger millet highlights the vast potential of this work. “With the development of this biofortified finger millet that still performs well in the field, you need to eat a third less finger millet to meet your daily calcium requirements. Some Kenyan food processors are very keen on using it for the growing baby food market.”

Rural Kenyan women learn a new way to cook finger millet porridge for better nutrition. Photo credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet

Rural Kenyan women learn a new way to cook finger millet porridge for better nutrition. Photo credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet

However, eating finger millet is not enough to get its nutritional benefits, our body has to absorb it. This is what a nutritionist calls bioavailability, which is usually quite poor for grains, as it also contains compounds like phytates and tannins that prevent calcium absorption. However, such anti-nutrient compounds are important in plant growth and grain preservation. Tannins for instance prevent mould or insect damage. The way grain is processed and eaten highly influences calcium absorption. A nutrition study assessing women self-help group diets in rural Karnataka State, India showed that a portion of finger millet consumed two times a day together with one portion of pulses and vegetables, met the recommended calcium daily requirements.

The most nutritionally sound way to prepare finger millet is grain decortication followed by malting (germination and heat treatment).  But processed grains have a limited shelf life compared to decorticated grains. In Kolli hills, it works well because people have easy access to small village mills and can prepare small quantities depending on their immediate needs. The rest of the harvest can be safely stored for months.

Integrating the Kolli hills nutrition improvement practices could ensure calcium biofortified finger millet delivers its promises. Calcium deficient households could learn the best ways to cook finger millet to minimize the nutrient loss and recipes should suit their palate and preferences.

Increasing the market demand for this grain as a Smart Food would also incite farmers to grow it and local food processors would develop a range of value-added products reaching new consumers. MSSRF has been supporting farmer groups to raise the profile of this ‘climate-smart nutri-cereal‘, which they say can help in the fight against hidden hunger. India has already incorporated millets in the Public Distribution System food basket, and it would make sense for African countries to add finger millet in the food aid basket too. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have promoted finger millet to a high value crop because of high potential in malnutrition alleviation and also as a high value cash earner

To have a proof of concept for food security decision-makers, Dr Ojulong and his colleagues recommend support in scaling up the initial success of biofortified finger millet in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as implementing pilot nutrition studies for vulnerable groups (like children, nursing or post-menopausal women) in finger millet-eating communities to confirm the extent of finger millet calcium absorption and benefits.

Through this approach, which incorporates agriculture, nutrition and health, along with policy and market research, finger millet could combat calcium deficiency in coming years.

Steps to Eradicate Childhood Stunting & Achieve SDG2.2

In this guest blog post, Morgane Danielou, from the Secretariat of the Private Sector Mechanism to the UN Committee on World Food Security tells Farming First about three projects on the frontline of the battle against stunting. Part of Farming First’s #SDG2countdown on SDG2.2: ending malnutrition.

Stunting continues to be one of the most pernicious and widespread forms of malnutrition, having a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable populations compared with other types of malnourishment. According to 2016 data, 155 million children under five around the world are stunted, representing more than 20 per cent of the under-five population. The majority of stunted children are in Asia (87 million) and in Africa (59 million).

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SDG 2.2 in 2 Minutes: Kate Van Waes, ONE International

For every $1 invested in nutrition, you get $16 back. This is just one reason ONE International argues that investing in nutrition pays off. Hear more about ONE’s work to encourage African governments to invest in agriculture and nutrition.

Filmed as part of Farming First’s #SDG2countdown campaign, exploring SDG2.2 on ending malnutrition.

Music: Ben Sounds

SDG2.2 in 2 Minutes: Roger Thurow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Roger Thurow has written a book that explains why the first 1,000 days of a child’s life is so critical for their health, and by extension, their communities and economies. Here’s how he thinks this knowledge can be harnessed to end malnutrition.

Filmed as part of Farming First’s #SDG2countdown campaign, exploring SDG2.2 on ending malnutrition.

Music: Ben Sounds

Private Sector Partnerships are Growing Nutritious Food Systems

This week, the #SDG2countdown moves on to explore SDG2.2: ending malnutrition. When smallholder farmers need a helping hand to break the cycle of poverty and malnutrition, partnerships with the private sector can offer crucial support, writes Ann Steensland, Deputy Director, Global Harvest Initiative.

It is a cruel irony that many of the malnourished people in the world are also small-scale farmers, struggling to grow enough food to feed their families and to earn an income.

Compounding this is the fact that malnutrition makes farmers less productive, causing stunted physical growth, cognitive impairments and chronic disease. And this makes it harder for farmers to achieve higher productivity to increase their incomes and move out of poverty.

To help break this vicious cycle of malnutrition, low-productivity and poverty, small-scale farmers need access to tools to enhance their output such as improved seeds, fertilizer and crop protection products, mechanization and irrigation technologies, and education about soil health and animal welfare.

Accessing productive inputs is particularly important for women, who are often the primary source of labour for planting, cultivating and harvesting.

Without access to productive inputs, a woman will spend more time planting, weeding and harvesting to increase her output. (Ann Steensland/GHI)

Without access to productive inputs, a woman will spend more time planting, weeding and harvesting to increase her output. (Ann Steensland/GHI)

We believe that to successfully meet the targets outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2), the challenges of malnutrition, agricultural productivity and poverty need to be addressed jointly. To this end, private sector actors of all sizes are starting to work with the public sector, NGOs and farmers to tackle the challenge.

The Global Harvest Initiative’s annual Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) describes the critical role of the private sector in helping small-scale farmers escape the malnutrition trap.

DuPont Pioneer is partnering with research institutions to develop biofortified sorghum and millet varieties that are biofortified with iron and zinc, as well as drought tolerant.  Sorghum and millet thrive in the drylands of India and Africa and are the primary source of calories for millions of small-scale farmers. Biofortified varieties of these staple crops will allow farmers who are at the greatest risk of malnutrition to grow nutrient fortified crops for themselves.  Researchers have found that consuming 100 grams of biofortified sorghum per day will provide 50 to 100 percent of daily Vitamin A requirement.

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) partnership is developing hybrid maize seed varieties that uses water more efficiently and resists insects and pests.  As a leading WEMA partner, Monsanto shared 600 elite parental lines of maize seed, royalty-free, along with technical plant breeding know-how.  Since the inception of the project in 2013, more than 90 conventional hybrids have been approved for commercial release in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. Farmers have been able to harvest 20 to 35 percent more grain under moderate drought conditions as compared to the seeds farmers had historically planted. By strengthening the local seed systems, WEMA is giving small-scale farmers an opportunity to improve their productivity and livelihoods.

In Zambia, John Deere is working in collaboration with local banks and the Conservation Farmers Union to help emerging farmers purchase tractors, rippers and seeders.  The farmers pay for the equipment by contracting out their plowing and planting services to neighbouring farmers.  The contractors receive business, farm management and agronomy training to enable them to run successful businesses, ultimately increasing their production and household incomes. There are 80 contractor farmers participating in the program, providing mechanization services to as many as 65 farmers each.  Repayment rates on the tractor loans are close to 90 percent.

Elanco Animal Health is partnering with Heifer International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others to support the East African Dairy Development Project (EADD).  Small dairy producers in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda receive training and resources to increase milk productivity on their farms as well as technology for collecting, preserving and transporting milk to the marketplace. The approach boosts smallholders’ productivity and builds a market for farmers’ products, while increasing the availability of an important source of nutritious animal protein.  In its first five years, EADD trained 180,000 farmers in dairy husbandry, business practices and operation, and marketing of dairy products. Heifer and its partners also developed 27 milk collection hubs, strengthened 10 existing hubs, and formed 68 farmer business associations.

In India, two-thirds of agriculture is rainfed, but the seasonal monsoons alternate with long, dry periods. The Mosaic Villages Project, a partnership between The Mosaic Company and the Sehgal Foundation, funded the construction of check dams in four communities to capture and store rainwater.  The water trapped by the dams is funnelled into underground aquifers and can be used for consumption or irrigation.  The check dams have a total reservoir capacity of 14 million gallons. As a result, farmers no longer rely solely on rain to grow nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables.  More than 30,000 people are benefiting directly or indirectly from the project.

These partnerships demonstrate how the private sector is contributing to SDG2 by helping farmers move beyond subsistence farming to a more prosperous, nutritious future.

GHI Member Companies are DuPont, Elanco Animal Health, Farmland Partners Inc., John Deere, Monsanto Company and The Mosaic Company. GHI also draws on the experience of its consultative partner organisations, including universities, NGOs, conservation groups and experts in small-scale agriculture and nutrition.

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Header image: ICRISAT