Prabhu Pingali

Prabhu Pingali, an Indian American professor at Cornell University, is the director of the Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative. (Prabhu Pingali photo) 

Thanks to a hefty donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a Cornell University project seeking to enhance access to nutritious foods in India should see substantial growth.

The foundation provided a $13.4 million grant to the Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative which will allow the project to scale up its work, as well as promote a more nutrition-sensitive food system aimed at bettering the diet of the rural poor, particularly women and children.

Lasting four years, the grant establishes Technical Assistance and Research for Indian Nutrition and Agriculture, a consortium launched Dec. 1 linking university and nongovernmental organization partners.

The goal of TARINA is to fund research and enact policy changes that enhance the availability and affordability of nutrient-rich food, according to a Cornell statement.

Launched in 2013, the initiative hoped to develop solutions in India where problems like childhood stunting and anemia in women affect long-term health and development.

TARINA is led by the initiative which has evidence-generating capabilities of the International Food Policy Research Institute, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Emory University and Cornell. It is helped in a technical capacity by BAIF and CARE, according to Cornell.

Tata Trusts, one of India’s leading philanthropy organizations, will support the consortium.

According to the initiative’s Indian American director, Prabhu Pingali, who is also a professor of applied economics and management at the university, the project has three missions: collecting data and evidence regarding diet quality; redesigning agricultural projects to focus on nutrition; and building the capacity to make reforms possible.

Additionally, the grant will allow for a Center of Excellence to be established in Delhi. It will serve as a data and information hub, as well as a source of technical expertise on nutrition sensitive food systems, the statement added.

“The push toward staple grains has inadvertently crowded out micronutrient-rich food,” Pingali said in a statement. “To enact meaningful reform, it’s not just enough just to say, ‘let’s produce a more diverse diet.’ You need a behavioral change.”

With that, the consortium intends to influence the design of ongoing and future agricultural projects and policies to increase the rural poor’s year-round access to an affordable food system. It expects to provide fresh fruit, vegetables, livestock products, beans, peas and lentils, according to Cornell.

Additionally, the project aims to empower women by strengthening their access to leadership roles in producer groups and promoting labor-saving techniques, such as mechanical rice-planting technologies that eliminate the grueling labor needed to plant rice by hand, the statement added.

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