In its less-than-impressive fight against malnourishment, India is all set to try out a new strategy by investing Rs. 200 crore on nutrifarms to grow super nutritious or 'bio-fortified' crops.
The trials will focus on crop varieties rich in micro-nutrients, such as iron-rich bajra (pearl millet), protein-laden maize or corn and zinc-heavy wheat. Such coarse cereals form a major part of the diet of low-income people.
India is among 29 countries with the highest levels of hunger, stunted children and poorly-fed women, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute's 2010 hunger index.
Nearly 42% of the country's children are underweight, more than levels in sub-Saharan Africa. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had termed it as a "national shame".
Crops with higher nutrients, compared to normal varieties, could help improve the situation. "Eminent agricultural scientists have suggested that we start a pilot programme on nutrifarms," finance minister P Chidambaram said in his budget speech.
Two years ago, the budget had unveiled a similar "nutri-cereals" scheme covering 25,000 villages for multi-grains.
The agriculture ministry would formulate a scheme, Chidambaram said, adding, "I hope that agri businesses and farmers will come together to start a sufficient number of pilot projects in the districts most affected by malnutrition."
Malnutrition is by far the biggest contributor to child mortality in India.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, success hinges on three things: effective breeding, sufficient nutrients must remain after cooking and, third, farmers must adopt them widely.