Sehgal Foundation

Dr. Surinder Sehgal, an Indian American philanthropist, in a pearl millet experimental field. The Seghal Foundation and Smart Food have aligned to intensify efforts to help Indian farmers grow more nutritious food. (photo provided)

The Des Moines, Iowa-based Seghal Foundation Jan. 28 announced it is aligning some big initiatives with the Smart Food Endowment Fund to help create a bigger agriculture movement in India.

The initiative will bring more attention to ‘smart foods’ like millet, sorghum and grain legumes, the foundation said in a news release.

Sehgal Foundation work began 20 years ago, and its mantra, “Together we empower rural India,” will be further enforced with this new partnership, it said.

Dr. Surinder M. Sehgal, Indian American founder of the foundation, with his wife Edda and chair of the S.M. Sehgal Foundation Board of Trustees, highlighted: “Through collaborations, we can do more and bring greater attention to the needs of smallholder farmers while making it more profitable and desirable to grow more nutritious foods more suitable to drier, tougher regions.”

The foundation signed an agreement with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics for their joint endowment fund to become a component of the Smart Food Endowment Fund that was established in April 2018, the release said.

This makes the total funds $6 million, it added.

“Our aim is to grow the Fund by attracting additional investments to create a significant endowment as long-term commitment toward developing the value chains of Smart Food. Such investments are vital at a time when food insecurity, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, and iron deficiency anemia are impeding the good health and livelihoods of millions of people globally. ICRISAT has collaborated with Sehgal Foundation for decades and is pleased to take this partnership to another level,” said Peter Carberry, director general of ICRISAT, in a statement.

ICRISAT launched a Smart Food initiative in 2013 that stemmed from strategic thinking around the need for food that fulfils the criteria of being good for the consumer, good for the planet and good for the farmer, according to the release.

A major objective under the initiative is to diversify staples that can have a strong and durable impact on nutrition, the environment, and farmer welfare.

Millets, because of their higher iron, calcium, and overall mineral content compared to wheat and rice, have the potential to help address malnutrition problems in India, other parts of Asia, and Africa, the foundation said.

“Addressing nutrition security and sustainable diets are keys to solving some of the biggest global issues such as hidden hunger and rural poverty,” Seghal said. “We are pleased with the Smart Food initiative of ICRISAT; this effort will help to achieve a turnaround in environmental degradation and diversify food systems.”

Added Joanna Kane-Potaka, assistant director general of external relations at ICRISAT and Smart Food executive director: “Given that staples across Asia and Africa can be about 70 percent of a meal, and often consumed in a refined form, this may result in little nutrition being available.”

“However, the major staples have well-developed value chains and are well supported. As a result, farmers have the incentive to grow these crops in agro-ecologies not suitable for their production, further straining the environment,” Kane-Potaka added. “The Smart Food approach is to start with driving consumer demand to diversify staples with nutritious alternatives like millets, and work along the whole value chain, while making efforts to ensure that farmers benefit,” she said.

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