HarvestPlus is increasing the nutrient-density of school meals for two million children in India, by empowering local farming communities to produce, consume, and market biofortified grains to the government school feeding program with support from the Happel Foundation.

The project, “Health and Nutrition for School-Age Children” (HaNSA), will work through the Indian government’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS). The largest program of its kind in the world, the MDMS provides a free cooked meal to 120 million children daily. School meals provide a vital source of food in India, where malnutrition rates are staggering: nearly twenty percent of school-age children are zinc deficient and one in four is anemic, with iron deficiency being a major contributor. These and other deficiencies coexist and have lasting negative impacts, including compromised immune systems, stunted physical growth, and limited human potential.

HaNSA aims to help address the malnutrition challenge in India and capitalize on the existing school meal infrastructure by integrating locally produced and procured biofortified zinc wheat and iron pearl millet into school meals across six states: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana. The project began in July 2022 and will be implemented over four years.

School meals have been shown to combat hunger and improve educational attainment. They provide essential micronutrients equitably across social classes and between genders. For girls, the benefits are especially profound, as they incentive them to stay in school longer, marry older, and bear children later—with positive lasting impacts on their nutrition.

Approximately 20,000 entrepreneurial farmers who live near schools will be trained on how to adopt, grow, and market biofortified grains to improve their own household nutrition and that of their community. The farmers will be linked to school food procurement systems, guaranteeing them an offtaker market and livelihoods boost.

HaNSA will be implemented through four pillars:

Strengthening nutritious food production locally

Entrepreneurial farmers and farmer producer companies will be engaged to accelerate the local supply of biofortified grains, which will become integrated as key micronutrient-providing ingredients in school meals. By developing local farmer and small- and medium-sized enterprise capacity through biofortified school feeding supply chains the livelihood and nutrition outcomes achieved through this project will have a lasting, sustainable impact.

Linking farmers with school feeding procurement programs

Crop farmers managed by farmer producer companies will be linked to accredited traders that procure food for Government programs, like the MDMS. Traders and processors will be trained on processing, storage, and quality management of biofortified grain and flour to ensure compliance with the MDMS quality requirements and to minimize food losses.

Delivering nutrition education through schools

Parents and children will learn about healthy foods and the role of nutrition, to propagate a household and intergenerational understanding of the importance of healthy dietary food staples and diverse diets for all family members.

Building evidence for scale up from seed to school-plate

HaNSA is building on work already underway between HarvestPlus and partners including the Akshaya Patra Foundation, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, on developing and testing nutritious menus for school lunches that incorporate biofortified grains. The project will conduct the first major effectiveness study of biofortification in school meals to further evaluate the nutritional impacts and cost-benefits of scaling up this important programming.

For more information, please contact HarvestPlus.