An estimated one in three of the world’s malnourished children live in India. A key cause of malnutrition across the country is micronutrient deficiencies, particularly iron deficiency.
In order to boost school attendance and support the dietary requirements of children, the Government of India launched its nation-wide Mid Day Meal scheme in 2005. Today the world’s largest school feeding programme reaches 120 million children in over 1.2 million schools across India.
Nevertheless, almost 70 per cent of children below five years in India are anaemic. For school children, this also means ill health, school absenteeism and sub-optimal performance. In an attempt to reduce childhood anaemia, the World Food Programme in India is supporting the state government of Odisha by bringing state-of-the-art rice fortification technology to the school mid day meal scheme in the rural district of Gajapati.
In early 2013, WFP carried out a baseline study among Gajapati school children aged 6 to 14 years that revealed that 19% of the sampled children were stunted (low height for age) and 14.5% were wasted (low weight for height). Overall, 73% boys and 74% girls from primary school were affected by anaemia.
As part of the Government of Odisha and WFP project (2012-14), rice fortification technology is used to add iron to the school meal, consumed almost daily by lower and upper primary school children in Gajapati district. The target is to reduce the prevalence of anaemia among school children (6 to 14 years) by at least 5 per cent through the mid day meal scheme.
Magachara Primary School is one of the 1,449 schools in Gajapati district which has benefited from the project. Biswamber Nayak, an agricultural labourer whose youngest daughter attends third grade in the school is relieved, “My daughter has not complained about any illness in the past few months. I am sure the food she gets at school is good for her health. Hopefully, this programme will continue for the benefit of our children.”