Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative

Agricultural pathways to better nutrition and poverty reduction

New destinations for TCi news

October 20, 2014 by · No Comments · TCi News

New blog

We’re excited to announce that the TCi blog has gotten a makeover. Visit us on Tumblr, where we will continue to offer regular updates on our work through progress reports and features like Field Notes. We will also check in with TCi director Prabhu Pingali to get his insights into program progress and current events in India, and hear from TCi partners and other guests about issues of interest. If you would like to share some of your own news or insights, you can submit them to the blog here.

For even more frequent updates and links to content you care about, check out our new Twitter feed, @TataCornell

The promise of iron-fortified and iron bio-fortified food for India: what’s available?

October 10, 2014 by · No Comments · Biofortification, Dietary Diversity, India Rural Poor, Pearl Millet, Research Agenda, TCi Field Notes

The following post was written by Alex King, a 2014 TCi summer intern who spent the summer in Mumbai researching and advancing TCi’s understanding of the iron-fortified food market. TCi is working to develop new products, partnerships and/or opportunities for promoting iron-fortified foods for rural and urban India. As of now, anemia represents a major human health crisis in the region, with close to 40% of women in childbearing ages suffering from this debilitating condition. Read about other TCi projects focusing on anemia, women’s empowerment, and farming patterns, or an initiative to increase per-capita consumption of iron-rich legumes

For those who have been following the TCi blog posts, you will know that there were several TCi interns working on TCi research and projects this summer. While five worked with the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture and were based Hyderabad, I was working on a separate initiative at the Tata Institute for the Social Sciences, or TISS, in Mumbai.

My work focused on researching the market based solutions to iron deficiency. I was fortunate to have the associate director of TCi, Dr. Bhaskar Mittra, to help guide me in my research. The first few weeks at TISS were spent reviewing the literature on iron deficiency throughout India. I utilized government-collected data from the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) and the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) to get information. After getting a better understanding of what the national reports say about nationwide nutrient levels, I needed to understand the types of food people were consuming and how they were spending their money on food. I made trips to three types of food markets in different parts of Mumbai to understand more about urban purchasing behavior and food preferences. While in rural Maharashtra and Gujarat, I spoke with small shop owners to understand what types of food people in rural areas were purchasing. I even learned some typical cooking methods to understand how the way food is prepared could potentially alter nutrition content.

Iron-biofortified pearl millet, like that created by Nirmal Seeds Ltd., can provide rural communities with improved access to iron.

Iron-biofortified pearl millet, like that created by Nirmal Seeds Ltd., can provide rural communities with improved access to iron. Photo credit CGIAR

Once I had a basic understanding of the context in which I was working, I went back to the list of commercially available iron-fortified foods in India and selected four for in-depth study.  The products represented a mix- two packaged snack foods, a widely used consumer product (salt), and a bio-fortified staple food. They are: Britannia Tiger Biscuit, Lehar Iron Chusti Puff, Tata Double-Fortified Salt, and Nirmal Seeds ICTP 8203 Fe Pearl Millet. The remainder of my time in India was spent arranging meetings with the Research and Development departments for each product. I was able to meet with three of the four companies to discuss their products and get more insight into why that product was selected, how effective it would be at addressing iron deficiency, and some basic market strategy. Obviously, since much of the information is confidential, companies were only able to report on so much.

This whole experience culminated in a report showing the information I collected throughout my time in India. This includes a list of known iron-fortified products available in the market, background information on the state of malnutrition and iron deficiency throughout India, and the market information for iron-fortified goods, including the four product case studies.

Working with the Tata-Cornell Initiative gave me real research skills while also allowing immersion into another university and culture. After many new experiences, spicy new foods, and countless cups of chai tea, I returned to the US with a fresh understanding of the delicate linkages between market interactions, agriculture, and nutrition. The work I did with TCi was an ideal way to bridge the gap between in-class education and engagement with the material itself. I look forward to continuing this research throughout the coming year with Dr. Pingali and the rest of the TCi team.

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TCi welcomes new Post-Doctoral Associate to work on climate change and nutrition impacts in India: Introducing Dr. Asha Sharma

October 6, 2014 by · No Comments · TCi News

TCi is delighted to welcome a new Post-Doctoral Associate to our research community: Asha Sharma. Dr. Sharma is working to quantify risks due to climate change on agriculture in India. In the post below, Dr. Sharma discusses how her work  modeling climate change impacts has important implications for human nutrition, water access and agricultural productivity… 

Dr. Asha Sharma has joined TCi as a post-doctorate, looking at various impacts of climate change on agricultural production in India.

Dr. Asha Sharma has joined TCi as a post-doctorate, looking at various impacts of climate change on agricultural production in India.

Over the last few years, delayed monsoons in India, droughts in the southwestern US and heat waves in Russia have all received major news coverage. Climate risks to agriculture are as old as agriculture itself, and improvements in technology (the word being used here in the broadest sense) have helped reduce the vulnerability of agriculture to the vagaries of climate. Yet even in the richest countries, agriculture is far from immune to nature’s whims. Now the agricultural, science and development communities face the question of how climate change will change these risks over the coming decades. Some of what we will see is unprecedented in human history – for example, we do not know exactly how higher carbon dioxide levels will affect crop yields and nutrient levels.

Water storage (natural or manmade) is one way in which we buffer against climate risks involving inadequate water. Not only is irrigation a way to deal with the occasional dry spell, but in many places it is critical to maintaining current crop yields.  This makes agriculture by far the biggest consumer of water amongst human activities. This dependence on water is responsible for rapid declines in groundwater in large parts of India. Climate change will affect both the demand and supply of water, but our own activities make this relationship even more complex. For example, recent studies show that wide-spread irrigation may be weakening the monsoons themselves. Yet as anyone living in India knows, sometimes and in some places, the issue is too much water in too short a time.

However, we deal with climate change in the context of many other large scale trends – changing cropping systems and practices, rises in population as well as average incomes, and changing tastes, to name a few. The global interconnections in the food system means that what happens in one place may affect what happens halfway around the globe in a good way or bad. At the same time, we are trying to grapple with how specific to the local region the vulnerabilities and adaptations are. My task as TCi’s first post-doc will involve my trying to grapple with these very challenging questions. Luckily for me, I can lean on the ears and brains of the fantastic group of experts in many different disciplines we have here within TCi and at Cornell.

Analysis of the MNDA Pilot Continues…

October 2, 2014 by · No Comments · TCi News

In the last of our posts from our 2014 TCi summer intern work, Nathaniel “Alex” Cordova, a graduate student and 2014 TCi intern, discusses the analysis phase of the work that was undertaken late in the summer after the fieldwork phase was complete. Read up on TCi’s Minimum Nutrition Dataset work here and check out prior posts by our interns discussing the fieldwork and post-fieldwork phases.

While the data collection process was operationally taxing, the data analysis period was equally as complex.  As we were piloting a new dietary diversity methodology, custom survey instruments were designed at the outset of the program to capture information regarding our key variables.  This not only allowed us to gather unique information and helped us validate our methodology, but also provided us with the challenge of creating an extensive data collection methodology and process upon our return to ICRISAT from the field.

The purpose of our data analysis was to test whether the results from the Minimum Nutrition Dataset (MNDA) ‘snapshot’ method were similar to ICRISAT’s intensive nutrition survey. In order to accurately analyze our collected data, we designed a data entry spreadsheet and created a reference list of foods and their respective food group according to guidelines established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The results are so far quite promising, and further analysis is being undertaken this fall (2014).

Tallying up individual dietary diversity scores

Tallying up women’s dietary diversity scores (WDDS), household dietary diversity scores (HDDS), each for 24 hours and 3 day recall periods, highlighted important differences amongst individuals and households and varied depending on the particular recall period (24 hours vs. 3 days).

Challenges thus far…

A central challenge during the data analysis process has been managing seasonality effects.  The MNDA pilot was conducted during the end of the dry season however we were comparing our scores with ICRISAT data that was collected at a different point in time.  As production and consumption will shift according to local weather patterns, household and individual dietary diversity scores could also fluctuate.  Updated ICRISAT intensive nutrition survey collected during the same time period as the MNDA will be analyzed further once they are available.  This will shed further light onto the ability of the MNDA dietary diversity methodology to accurately capture these scores with a rapid assessment model.

Other operational challenges surfaced regarding the analysis of survey information once returning from the field.  An enormous amount of capacity  was not only needed to create the data entry instruments, but also to conduct numerous meetings regarding variables and coding, data collection and notation methods, as well as score computation.  This was a tremendous effort, and it is safe to say that the entire team learned an incredible amount from participating throughout the entire process and seeing it through to the data collection and analysis phases.  We are excited to continue working on the project this fall, and are anxious to share our results!