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India: Combating Chronic Iron Deficiency Through Food Fortification

In a bid to significantly reduce childhood anaemia, WFP brings state-of-the-art rice fortification technology to India's school meals programme in the rural district of Gajapati, in the state of Odisha.

NEW DELHI - Simply by getting an extra dose of iron in his diet through lunches in school, Ravi's health improved and he has since been able to regularly attend his classes in second grade. His parents, who are subsistence farmers, find that they are now spending less on unplanned medical expenses for him and are delighted to see their son thrive in school.  

Ravi is one of many children in the poor rural district of Gajapati, in the South-Eastern State of Odisha, who suffer from anaemia. About two thirds of all school children in this district are anaemic.

India’s Mid-Day-Meal scheme (MDM) is the largest national school feeding programme worldwide reaching out to 120 million children. The objective is to address food security issues, including lack of nutritious food and to boost school attendance and academic performance. Implemented by State Governments, the MDM scheme supplies freshly cooked meals to school children aged six to fourteen in educational institutions all over India. 


In a pilot project by WFP, ordinary rice provided by the State is fortified with iron using state-of-the-art technology.  The objective is to significantly reduce the incidence of anaemia and boost school children’s immune systems to better fend off common diseases. In addition, through advocacy efforts, caregivers and relevant government officials are receiving training on child nutrition, cooking and feeding practices.   

“Before our children came to school quite irregularly,” says Sarash Pani, headmaster of a local school. “They often suffered from skin and scalp infections and frequently missed school due to fatigue and a host of common ailments and diseases. Over the past months, since they've been eating fortified rice at school, their health has noticeably improved, as has their attendance and active participation in class.”

The Department of School and Mass Education of the Government of Odisha State requested WFP to find solutions to optimise the nutritional value of their MDM scheme in a district pilot project where anaemia is particularly prevalent. Currently 101,750 school children are benefitting each school day from iron-fortified rice in 1,450 schools in Gajapati. The pilot project will be handed over to the State by the end of 2014. WFP is advocating with other state governments to adopt the model which includes training and capacity development of government officials involved in the MDM scheme as well as delivering more nutritious food.