India: Child Nutrition Improved Through Rice Fortification

WFP helps the government enhance school meals in the Indian State of Odisha with iron-fortified rice. The initiative has won the approval of Roopteshwar, a schoolboy in the Gajapati district of eastern India.

Bhubaneswar – Roopteshwar Adhikari is 12-years-old and rarely sees his parents. They live 1,500 km away in Bangalore, where they work as day labourers. He lives with his grandmother and two sisters in Gajapati.
Every day, his grandmother cooks plain rice for the children. So, one of the things Roopteshwar likes about school is the different food he gets there.
“I have been in this school for the last two years. I eat food in school every day. I eat rice, lentils, soybean, potato, egg curry. My favourite is the egg curry,” he says, noting that at school he gets what he called ‘iron rice’.

“At home I eat plain rice but in school I get iron rice. I like the iron rice. I know it makes more blood and makes me stronger.”
Since 2013, WFP has been working with the Government of Odisha in fortifying the rice served in the school meals in Gajapati with iron. The goal is to address the astounding levels of anaemia in the district. Roopteshwar is one of about 100,000 children who eat this fortified rice in their school meals every day.

As part of its strategy to address food and nutrition issues and also to boost school attendance and academic performance, India has a national school feeding programme which reaches about 120 million children. It’s called the Mid Day Meal scheme (MDM) and is implemented by State Governments.
The MDM scheme supplies freshly cooked meals to school children aged 6-14 in educational institutions all over the country, among them the P.U.P School Adashra, Badigam, where Roopteshwar studies in class 7.

A recent evaluation of the fortified rice pilot in the district indicated that levels of anaemia have decreased by 5%. WFP is working with the Government of Odisha to explore the possibilities of scaling up the intervention to benefit more school children. 

“I want the iron rice to continue in my school meal,” Roopteshwar says. “I want to be stronger because when I am older I want to be a teacher. I don’t want to go away from Gajapati, I will stay here and teach in a school. This extra iron will help me.”