How can fortified foods, such as wheat flour and rice, improve the nutrition of tea garden workers in India? An expert consultation, organized in Kolkata, India, on 8 June 2017 by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and GAIN, focused on answering this question.
Many Indian tea garden workers and their families remain highly vulnerable to various forms of malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies. Their diets are often composed of starchy foods such as rice, bread and wheat – inexpensive and filling, but lacking in essential nutrients such as iron and zinc, which are essential for good health.
This consultation was organized to foster partnership across the different stakeholders involved in the tea sector. Participants included high-level representatives from businesses, including tea and senior officials of the Department of Food and Civil Supplies in West Bengal and Assam, the Tea Board of India, the Indian Tea Association and the Tea Research Association.
There was general agreement that food fortification can help alleviate the malnutrition problem among tea garden workers. However, according to Mr. Pawan Agarwal, the CEO of FSSAI, it is essential to develop a sustainable strategy that is also cost-effective. “Promoting fortified foods through health food shops and better utilizing community kitchen gardens can be important ways to achieve a better nutrition status’’, said Aijit Raha of the Indian Tea Association. Rice fortification was mentioned as a priority in West Bengal and Assam by several participants, as rice is the preferred staple food consumed by the population.
Tarun Vij, Country Director of the GAIN India office, presented the Seeds of Prosperity project, a collaboration between GAIN, Unilever and IDH. He highlighted that food fortification is only part of the solution to the complex problem of malnutrition and it should be combined with the promotion of a diverse diet, good hygene practices and nutrition education – something that was echoed in the discussion.
Following this fruitful discussion, the participants agreed, among other things, to map out the supply side of rations provided in the tea gardens and to align the demand and supply in West Bengal and Assam. Lastly, they reiterated the importance to adopt a holistic approach to improve the nutrition and health of tea garden workers by connecting the food fortification initiative with existing programs like Seeds of Prosperity.
Published 25 July 2017