Dominic Schofield is program director for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. The opinions expressed are his own.
Inside India, settled along the border with Pakistan and home to the inhospitable Great Indian Desert, is the state of Rajasthan.
It is the site of the ancient ruins of the Indus Valley civilization – one of the oldest civilizations archeologists have discovered – and today is ground zero for the breakdown of our global food system.
In Rajasthan, one in 15 children fail to live even a full year, one in 12 dies before the age of five and 70 percent of children suffer from anemia.
While this picture looks bleak, new programs are being established in Rajasthan that could be a new model for addressing this crisis.
Rajasthan is a case study in the perils of malnutrition, a condition that over 2 billion people suffer from globally.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and international assistance organizations are doing their best to provide relief and assistance to those in the greatest need around the world.
However, providing disaster assistance is merely a temporary solution to a structural problem in the global food system.
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) examines and approaches the problem of malnutrition from the perspective of a 1,000 day window of opportunity – the time from a child’s conception to her second birthday.
This crucial time period is a key determining factor for that child’s life. When approaching the problem from this perspective, it is clear that government actions and non-government relief organizations cannot solve this problem on their own on a sustained basis.
It is essential to share the burden across all sectors and market-based solutions to address the systemic failures in the global food system.
One such solution is being launched in Rajasthan through an innovative partnership between GAIN, The United Nations (U.N.) World Food Program (WFP), the Indian government’s Integrated Childhood Development Scheme (ICDS) and local groups of marginalized women.
This partnership will train the women of Rajasthan to work in the small food processing factories that develop nutritious fortified foods delivered by the ICDS to the people of their state.
Educating the women of this region to produce nutritious foods will not only provide their people with the needed sustenance and provide them with much needed household income; but it will have the added benefit of teaching the teachers, as women will be empowered to transfer this knowledge to their children and their communities.
GAIN’s research has indicated that this partnership could reduce the epidemic of anemia within Rajasthan by 30 percent in as little time as two years.
That’s real progress toward improving the food system to better meet the needs of the poor.