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I wonder why the research and policy direction of government (public sector) bodies and policy recommendations of NGO think tanks, is so misguided and market illiterate when it comes to nutrition security.

Here is an article by the leadership of such a think tank (ICRIER) – https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/from-food-security-to-nutrition-security-5401826/

This article recommends scaling up of initiatives to biofortify foods (good idea and inevitable), but some of the examples and recommendations it offers as scale up opportunities is nonsensical.

The smaller suggestion deserves immediate dismissal on grounds of market and consumer preference illiteracy. “biofortified coloured wheat (black, blue, purple)” anyone? That’s ridiculous- no self respecting home kitchen will accept purple rotis. For new products to be accepted, they must be perceived as familiar, and superior as well, to existing tastes and cultural practices. Coloured wheat is neither.

The larger suggestion of bio fortifying grain has two problems. The first is that it is focused on a narrow set of nutrients (zinc, iron etc.). Secondly it assumes that people will change the variety of rice or wheat they currently consume and switch to these new varieties. Both arguments are flawed.

We are in an age of surplus. Solving this nutritional security problem using the techniques that led to the successful green revolution simply won’t work. The green revolution introduced a shortages driven population to abundance. It made stuff that was of a higher quality available at a more affordable price point. Fine grain and a more refined food experience replaced crude grain and a rougher food experience. The new was perceived as both familiar, and superior, to the old.

Calorie security in the 1960s was an affordability, quality and availability problem. Nutritional security in 2018 is a behaviour change problem. The solution approaches must change.

Also, why take all this trouble of biofortifying grain and creating supply, when inexpensive nutrition dense foods with these nutrients, hundreds more nutrients and protein to boot, are already available?

An easier path to nutritional security is the re-familiarisation of the population to traditional foods in new avataars. Foods with very high and diverse nutritional value are abundant and cheap. It’s just that people don’t eat them much anymore. From moringa leaves to hundreds of ubiquitous herbs, there is enough and more.

The holy grail is if we could figure out a way to create and market superior dining experiences using these superfoods – kitchen friendly recipes and packaged food as well. The food industry leaders ITC, Marico, Unilever, PepsiCo, Britannia and others of their ilk could take the lead here. This is a big business opportunity as well.

Today nutrition dense foods with per acre protein and biomass yield that exceeds grain by several thousand percent, are already available. They have traditionally been accepted as food as well. Let’s get them to the plate.

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