Ottawa, CANADA – Nutrition International announced today that it will be launching a new two-year initiative to explore how social safety net programs (SSNPs) in India can be optimized to improve nutrition outcomes. Through this project, Nutrition International will provide guidance and technical advice, and generate evidence to support the governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to improve and scale up the double-fortified salt and rice fortification programs within their SSNPs. Successful implementation will serve as a model for other state governments to introduce fortified foods into their own social safety net programs. Nutrition International will also support the national government to scale up rice fortification pilots and explore diversification of the food basket provided by SSNPs.

“The global expansion of social safety net programs in response to COVID-19 is a home-run hiding in plain view for nutrition. SSNPs are a significant missed opportunity to level the playing field for millions of people impacted by the pandemic – and we have to explore how to optimize them for nutrition,” said Joel Spicer, president and CEO of Nutrition International. “Fortifying food staples is a proven and cost-effective method of reaching populations with essential nutrients that improve health and strengthen immune systems. This project is an exciting opportunity to get good nutrition to those who need it most, starting in one of the most populous countries in the world – India.”

Despite some progress in addressing malnutrition, India faces a high burden of anaemia, with more than half of women of reproductive age affected. According to the 2020 Global Nutrition Report, 34% of children under five are stunted and 17% are wasted, higher than the regional average. Malnutrition can prevent brains from developing fully, bodies from growing properly, immune systems from working effectively, and can lead to an increased, lifelong risk of disease and disability.

India’s Public Distribution System is the world’s largest, reaching 813.5 million people. Along with the country’s other social safety net programs, these platforms present a promising delivery mechanism to provide food and nutrition to under-served populations with increased nutritional needs, particularly women and children.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a US$1.5M grant to fund this project. Nutrition International will also partner with MSC India Consulting, a leading international development consulting firm with extensive experience working with the Government of India and other partners to increase the impact of government programs, as well as the World Food Program.