The India Nutrition Initiative has gone the distance to help ease the malnutrition burden weighing down the country.
The hideous statistics on undernutrition in India hide an uplifting story — for the first time in the history of the country since independence, nutrition has found the place it deserves in the national consciousness. The elephant has opened its eyes.
Age-old conversations about babies with swollen bellies and a populace dragged into the malnutrition mire by poverty and illiteracy have made way for action on the ground, solutions that yield positive results and political commitment to the cause of a healthier India.
Nutrition has raced up the social development agenda, and not a moment too soon. The launching of the National Nutrition Mission (or Poshan Abhiyan) in March 2018 was the spur. Political will supplies the impetus essential to translate plans into productive projects, and partnerships between the government and civil society are helping turn the tide in the war against malnutrition.
The India Nutrition Initiative (TINI), the flagship programme of the Tata Trusts, has played a full part in this war, contributing with resources, personnel and ideas. Nutrition has been a capital concern for the Trusts since 2015 but they needed a sharper focus to translate concepts and strategies into successes that can be replicated. TINI provides the means and the muscle to do that.
The Trusts had a role in getting the Nutrition Mission up and running. The effort began in right earnest through a collaboration in 2017 with the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a mechanism that would enable improved implementation of the government’s Integrated Child Development Services Systems Strengthening and Nutrition Improvement Programme (ISSNIP).
The ISSNIP initiative would go on to form the basis of the National Nutrition Mission, an operation that has galvanised every entity involved in upping India’s nutrition quotient. TINI, for its part, has given the Mission its all through a diverse range of programmes designed to deliver answers, resolve the complex and inform future endeavours.
Three of the programmes in TINI’s nutrition roster stand out. The appropriately named ‘making it happen’ helps deepen the impact of the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme, primarily through the 1.3 million-strong network of government childcare centres in the country. In food fortification, TINI works with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to increase the nutritional value of five staples. And there’s the Swasth Bharat Prerak initiative that has placed ‘motivators’ in 360 districts of India to aid the Nutrition Mission with implementation, coordination and monitoring.
There is nothing sophisticated or complicated about the various methods being employed — and that is a strength. There are adjuncts as well in the support system TINI has shaped to back the Nutrition Mission: data analytics to measure impact; establishing resource centres within the Ministry of Women and Child Development and FSSAI; and setting up the Tata Centre for Public Health and Nutrition at the National Institute of Nutrition.
There is plenty of heavy lifting for TINI to do, and it comes with the territory. “It’s easy to tackle issues where the cost-effect relationship is linear and straight,” explains Rajan Sankar, the programme director for nutrition at the Trusts. “It’s different with nutrition, where a multitude of factors come into play.”
One of TINI’s objectives is to craft a template for nutrition. “You can choose a module that suits a situation and get ahead with implementation,” says Dr Sankar. “Resources have to be pooled and efforts layered one over the other to achieve maximum impact. Everything has to meld for India to enhance its nutrition goals.”
There is no shortage of optimism or enthusiasm in Dr Sankar and his team, a blend of subject experts and social development professionals. “We keep hearing that India has not done well in eliminating malnutrition; that is not completely true,” says Dr Sankar. “We could have done much better, for sure, but progress has been made in every state. There are a number of countries — Brazil, Peru and, in our neighbourhood, Thailand — that have reduced malnutrition far more rapidly than India, but then this country is unique: so huge, so much diversity, so many people.”
The enormity of the malnutrition emergency is what makes it imperative that all of India come together to fight the blight. The Trusts have not held back and that is perhaps why the Indian government has invited the institution to be its principal partner in the Nutrition Mission. “We are seen as enablers rather than donors,” adds Dr Sankar, “and that’s what is needed.”
It’s easy to tackle issues where the cost-effect relationship is linear and straight. It’s different with nutrition, where a multitude of factors come into play.”— Dr Rajan Sankar, director, nutrition initiative