First scientific testing of Mid-Day Meals with millets show positive results

Delhi, 17 December 2019: A scientific team along with chefs designed millet-based meals that were served to about 1,500 school children. After just 3 months, children showed 50% faster growth than those eating the usual fortified rice-based meals. Also the children rated the meals 4.5 or higher out of 5 for taste, including eating little millet as rice.

This Smart Food study, recently published in the Nutrients scientific journal1, was undertaken by Akshaya Patra and the International Crops Research Center for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) using anthropometry measurements and sensory evaluations with early adolescent school children. It was released at the 4th Tasting India Symposium by Joanna Kane-Potaka, Executive Director, Smart Food, and Assistant Director General, ICRISAT, and the founder directors of Tasting India Symposium, Sanjoo Malhotra and Sourish Bhattacharyya.

“It is not good enough just to say we are going to add millets into the meal. The type of millet, variety, how it is cooked and foods it is combined with are just some of the key elements that can make a difference to the impact on nutrition. You can double the amount of iron available just by the variety of millet you select,” said the head nutritionist of the study, Dr S. Anitha at ICRISAT, who also noted that “this is the first known scientific study of millet based meals in a school feeding program.”

“Akshaya Patra had been looking for ways to improve the nutrition of the midday meals and the millet meals were exceptionally successful and were really liked by the children. We appreciate the Karnataka state government support and with this positive result, we now hope this will lead to the needed support for nutritious millet based meals, for the benefit of our future generations,” added Ajay Kavishwar, Head of Research at Akshaya Patra.

“This initiative also included developing guidelines on how to introduce millets into menus to maximize the nutrition benefits and likability. This is pertinent now given the renewed interest in millets,” shared Ashok Jalagam, Smart Food Coordinator for Asia Pacific.

Call to policy makers

There is a call to government for policies that (1) Follow the lessons learnt on how to include millets into meals (2) Create a level playing field for the pricing and availability of millets (through the Minimum Support Price (MSP), Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) and feeding programs (MDMs, ICDS) that will benefit from not only being inclusive of millets, but also the approach taken to introduce the millets; and (3) Go one step further and select millets by varieties in programs, ensuring maximum nutritional value and impact and (4) Promote millets in positive fun ways.

This is particularly relevant now as millets have gained major attention because of its nutritional value and resilience in the face of water scarcity and climate change so can be a viable option for struggling farmers if markets can be further developed. The Government of India and various states like Karnataka and Odisha have led the cause to bring millets back into popularity. The Government of India named last year as its National Year of Millets and initiated a millet mission. NITI Aayog recently announced their intent to pilot millets in the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and MDM schemes.

“These results and guidelines developed from the study, are equally important for any scheme addressing malnutrition or general healthy diets – whether it be government, NGOs or private sector processors or caterers,” noted Joanna Kane-Potaka, Executive Director of Smart Food and Assistant Director General of ICRISAT.

“ICRISAT holds the world’s largest collections of millet genetic material and works closely with Indian Institute of Millet Research and other partners to breed better varieties of millets including higher nutrient levels as well as the more conventional traits like yield and resilience,” commented Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT.

Anitha, S., Kane-Potaka, Tsusaka, T.W., Tripathi, D., Upadhyay, S., Kavishwar, A., Jalagam, A.,  Sharma, N. and Nedumaran, S. (2019). Acceptance and impact of millet based mid-day meal on nutritional status of adolescent school going children in a peri urban region of Karnataka state in India, Nutrients. 1-16. doi:10.3390/nu11092077

About Smart Food

The Smart Food initiative is a global initiative to bring foods that fulfil all criteria of being good for you, the planet and the farmer into mainstream. The key objective of Smart Food is to diversify staples with Smart Foods, starting with millets and sorghum. Given that staples often constitute 70% of a meal and typically comprise of refined carbohydrate, hence little nutrition, this is where we can have big impact.

About ICRISAT

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT) is an international non-profit organization that conducts agricultural research to bring prosperity to the small holder farmers in the drylands of Asia and Africa. ICRISAT has a specialty in millets, sorghum, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnuts. ICRISAT’s global headquartered is in Hyderabad, India and it has offices in eight countries in Africa. It is a research center of the CGIAR (a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future). See: www.icrisat.org

About Akshaya Patra Foundation

The Akshaya Patra Foundation Akshaya Patra Foundation is the world’s largest (not-for-profit run) mid-day meal programme serving wholesome food to 1.66 million children from 13,839 schools across 12 states in India. The organisation strives to fight issues like hunger and malnutrition in India. By implementing the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in Government and Government aided schools, The Akshaya Patra Foundation aims not only to fight hunger but also to bring children to school. The Foundation is headquartered in Bengaluru, India. See: www.akshayapatra.org

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Nutrition composition of the typical school meal of fortified rice and samba compared to millet based meals

Comments from Experts

Millets are indeed superior cereals in terms of nutrition and also in terms of sustainability. They are ideally suited to address child undernutrition and fits very well in nature friendly production. Use of millets in various nutrition intervention programmes and in PDS will be of great help to address malnutrition and improve health.
Prof Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog, Government of India

Making it profitable for farmers to grow nutritious foods like millet has tobe a key part of the Doubling Farmer’s Income mission. As part of the mission, I emphasize the need for harmonious consideration of 3 principal stakeholders: farmers, consumers, and ecology. We need a wholesome ecosystem system approach for long term sustainability.
Dr Ashok Dalwai, Chair, Committee on Doubling Farmer’s Income ®

We have this very elaborate arrangement and network of processes to ensure cooked food is given to children in thousands of schools all over the country, it is only logical to introduce millets by making a few policy changes by the Government of India and by the State governments. We can bring in millet-based preparations to a hundred million children. It is a phenomenal opportunity that is available today. If we can introduce millets in the mid-day meal programme and make it delicious and memorable, then it is very good for the children, it is very good for the planet and it is very good for the farmer.
Chanchalapati Dasa, Vice-Chair, Akshaya Patra Foundation
Extracted from the upcoming coffee table book “Against the Grain in India”

It is very important to recognize the wide difference in all the millets from nutritional value to cooking and processing suitability and taste. IIMR works on all the millets and across the whole value chain from breeding better varieties to undertaking research on product development to operating an incubator for SMEs.
Dr Vilas Tonapi, Director, Indian Institute of Millets Research

This study and results are hugely valuable for how we move forward with designing meals for children. We knew millets were nutritious and were advocating for their inclusion in government programs. This study provides more guidance on how to do this.
Dr Raj Bhandari, Medical doctor and government advisor

Scientific research is essential to ensure the best solutions. This study has highlighted the need for research ranging from high end genomics that can halve the time needed for breeding the most nutritious millets through to social economics and marketing research that can test the best methods for achieving behaviour change towards more nutritious diets.
Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT

This initiative also included developing guidelines on how to introduce millets into menus to maximize the nutrition benefits and likeability. This is pertinent now given the renewed interest in millets.
Ashok Jalagam, mart Food Coordinator for Asia Pacific, ICRISAT

It is not enough to say that we are going to add millets in the meal. The type of millet, variety, how it is cooked and foods it is combined with are just some of the key elements that can make a difference to the impact on nutrition and health of the consumer. You can double the amount of iron available just by the variety of millet you select.
Dr S Anitha, Senior Scientist – Nutrition, ICRISAT

Akshaya Patra had been looking for ways to improve the nutrition of the mid-day meals and the millet meals were exceptionally successful and were really liked by the children. We appreciate the state government support and with this positive result, we now hope this will lead to the needed support for nutritious millet-based meals, for the benefit of our future generations.
Ajay Kavishwar, Head of Research, Akshaya Patra

We worked closely with the school principals and teachers in undertaking this study. They played a key role in advising us on children’s’ preferences and how best to communicate with the children to teach them about millets.
Deepti Tripathi, Social Development Professional, Akshaya Patra Foundation

Our nutrition students were thrilled to be able to undertake the BMI (height, weight, arm length and arm circumference) measurements of the children. Our chefs and students alike have been inspired by the potential for millets and are creating new recipes and testing their nutrition values and undertaking sensory evaluations. So far the results are very positive.
Priya Arjun, Head, Food and Beverage, and Nutrition Center, Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences

Product development based on understanding of consumer preferred traits, especially organoleptic properties, linked to scientifically validated health claims is key to sustainable promotion of millets. The Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) of ICRISAT is working on sustainable millet value chains through innovative product development and its scientific validation.
Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Chief Operating Officer, NutriPlus Knowledge (NPK)
Program, Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP), ICRISAT

Government policy that creates a level playing field for millets versus rice or wheat, is a critical need. It has to be cost effective for more nutritious meals to be served to those who are most in need.
Dr S Nedumaran, Senior Scientist – Economics, ICRISAT

Our rigorous primary data collection and analysis have delivered evidence of the capability of these climate-smart crops to effectively mitigate the extent of undernutrition in infants and youth, while catering to the palate of diverse consumers. This suggests immense potential of millets and sorghum in contributing to multiple goals under the SDG 2030 agenda.
Dr Takuji W. Tsusaka, Natural Resource Economist, Organization for Advanced and Integrated Research, Kobe University

Gut health (microbiomes) is an emerging science and critical for the absorption of nutrients. Millets have pre- and probiotic properties and therefore they can naturally help in improving gut health. However little is known about this area and given that it can influence the final nutritional value of our food, more research is urgently needed.
Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director – Genetic gains, ICRISAT

The study adds up a strong dimension that these neglected and underutilized foods can play a strategic role in improving nutritional status. It gives us a very good idea to utilize millets in traditional recipes, adding an nterestand variety in the plate at household level. A lot has to be done to popularize the millets as a low cost solution in the fight against malnutrition. The current effort is commendable and scalable with region specific modifications.
Dr Shweta Upadhyay, International Consultant, UNICEF, Malawi

These results and guidelines developed from the study are equally important for any scheme addressing malnutrition or general healthy diets – whether it be government, NGOs or private sector processors or caterers.
Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General – External Relations, ICRISAT
Executive Director – Smart Food

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