Through funding from the Bestseller Foundation, GAIN is working in the states of Karnataka and Bihar in India to improve the nutrition and lives of groups of semi-literate women. These women are trained to run their own factories producing a quality blended complementary food product called "Wheatamix" in Bihar and "Shakhti Vita" in Karnataka. This complementary food product, fortified with vitamins and minerals, has the potential to reach thousands of women, adolescents and children in the region.
These are pilot projects, operating within two blocks of each state where the delivery of the food is institutional. This means the food is procured in-bulk by the government and distributed through state-run institutional programmes. In Bihar, this programme is called the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme, while in Karnataka it is known as the Multi-sectoral Nutrition Project and is supported by the World Bank. The project specifically targets vulnerable populations suffering from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. It builds on initial investments by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GAIN to set up decentralised production units run by women’s groups in Rajasthan and Bihar, which are still operational and produce nutritious foods for distribution through the ICDS.
More specifically, this project seeks to build on the initial pilots in Rajasthan and Bihar by expanding the production of good quality complementary foods by establishing four small self-sustaining food production units run by women’s self-help groups. In addition to empowering these women through income generating activity, a supply chain management and behavior change communication component will ensure the proper consumption and utilization of the product alongside improved infant feeding practices in the target communities. These production lines will reach approximately 70,000 women and children with micronutrient enriched blended food.
Malnutrition remains a major public health concern in India, where over 50% of the population suffer some form of protein-calorie or micro-nutrient deficiency. This project is in line with the Government of India’s policy of promoting decentralised food production for ICDS supplies in order to address malnutrition amongst women and children.
Under the new phase of this programme, GAIN has already set up two new production facilities in Karnataka, which have been operational since November 2016. Another two additional units are being established in the Muzzafarpur district of Bihar and commence production in June 2017. The facilities in Karnataka have the capacity to each produce two metric-tonne per day, roughly enough production capacity to reach 20,000 beneficiaries with fortified blended food.
Building healthier communities in Karnataka
GAIN’s implementing partner in Karnataka, the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT), manages the operation of the units and procurement and distribution of the food through the Karnataka Comprehensive Nutrition Mission (KCNM), a state government programme funded by the Word Bank. This multi-sectoral programme includes a number of integrated nutrition interventions, including the production of the blended complementary food and distribution by Village Nutrition Volunteers (VNVs) to vulnerable households within their communities.
Part of the challenge identified by the frontline VNVs in Karnataka is gaining the trust of caregivers and informing them about the nutritional benefits of the product for their child’s health and development, if used regularly. The local VNVs play an important role in counseling families on the causes and effects of poor hygiene and sanitation in relation to eating and feeding practices, in addition to educating about the benefits of healthy diets.
Shantamma is one of the many women the nutrition volunteers have been able to help. Shantamma, who lives in the Raichur district of Karnataka, was severely malnourished during the 7th month of her pregnancy, with a high level of anemia. She had already lost three babies due to her poor health and poor delivery conditions. She was at risk of losing her 4th child until a local volunteer provided her with the blended nutritious food product and iron folate supplements to take during her pregnancy to improve her nutritional status. Through support from the VNVs, she was admitted to the local hospital where she was treated for her anemia and was able to deliver her baby safely. She also received counselling on optimal breastfeeding and optimal complementary feeding practices for the healthy growth of her baby.
The integrated KCNM programme in Karnataka, through which GAIN is the selected production partner, is aiming to reach 40,000 children, women and adolescent girls with the blended complementary food products.
This multi-sectoral nutrition project has taken off and is working very well, so much so that Government of Karnataka has decided to consider undernutrition and calorie-protein-micronutrient deficiency in children, adolescent and adults as a Grand Challenge for start-ups.