Day 3 - Press Release


“Need to expand public food baskets for socio-economic groups to counter malnutrition” say Experts

Chennai (10 August 2021): An enabling system require in a place where mother to feed self and their children in optimum level to eradicate malnutrition. A policy intervention needs to be in place which makes nutritious food accessible to socially weaker section across the South Asia.

This was the call made by South Asia regional experts in the session ‘Needed Policy Change for India and South Asia to improve Nutritional status of Children and Women’ chaired by Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization, at the final day of three-day International Consultation titled: “Ensuring Food and Nutrition Security in the Context of Climate Change and the COVID-19 Pandemic”, organized by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai.

The COVID-19 Pandemic severely affected Food and Nutrition security. A recent report by United Nations agencies, Status of Food Insecurity, painted a grim picture across the world. It clearly shows that how hunger and malnutrition sharply increased the poverty during the Pandemic. It has put around 132 million more people in trap of hunger, around 124 million people were pushed into extreme poverty, and 114 million people lost jobs which is higher among women and youths.

Experts and policy-makers participated in this session are Dr. Gagandeep Kang, Professor of Microbiology, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, New Delhi, Dr. Vinod Paul, Member, NITI Aayog, Government of India, Dr. Kaosar Afsana, Professor, BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University Bangladesh, Mr Zitouni Ould-Dada, Deputy Director FAO, Rome, Italy, and Mr Arjan De Wagt, Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF, India.

These experts suggested policy measures to counter malnutrition especially among children and mother. They emphasized over communication tools to bring behavioral change among families and individuals and communities.

Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, New Delhi showcased government efforts in addressing agricultural and nutrition challenges through new technology. She gave comprehensive overview what government is doing under POSHAN Abhiyan.

Dr Vinod Paul, Member, NITI Aayog, Government of India, said: “I would suggest optimal feeding of small babies. Intensive breastfeeding, Kangaroo Mother Care and guidance require to change behaviors of families towards providing optimum nutrition to children. We are still behind in providing diverse nutritious complementary food to babies. We need to improve quantity and quality of food to babies and the timing of providing these foods through behavioral change campaign.”

Dr Gagandeep Kang, Professor of Microbiology, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu emphasized over maternal education which is related to children health and new approaches to feeding. She said Microbiome can be a point of intervention for a policy-maker. A trial was done in Bangladesh which showed the encouraging results. Dr Kaosar Afsana, Professor, BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University Bangladesh said:

“We all are interconnected. There is need of a South-Asia regional policy network based on scientific evidences to counter malnutrition as well as mitigate severity of climate change. There should be one science policy for our region to work together. Though, we have many networks but it has not been functioning the way we wish. I wish there are many inter-governmental agencies are there”.

Mr Arjan De Wagt, Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF, India, said:

“Government alone cannot eradicate malnutrition. Community, families, and Individual would have to come together to eradicate malnutrition, the immediate need of an intensive promotion of healthy eating habits and behavioral change messages among communities. Like the way, we have taken COVID-19 Pandemic control message to every nook and corner. In the same way, we need to take our healthy food eating habit messages among communities to change their behavior.”

Mr Zitouni Ould-Dada, Deputy Director FAO, Rome, Italy highlighted impact of climate change in Asia:

“Major driver of hunger are Climate variability and extremes, Conflicts, Economic slowdown and downturn, unaffordability of healthy diets and poverty and inequality. Asia is on the frontline of a changing climate. By 2030, around 65% of Asians will live in cities. More

people in coastal cities than anywhere in the world facing threat of sea level rise and severe weather events will affect more people in Asia than anywhere else.”

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization, made a remark in concluding session:

“How a system can enable a family and mother to feed self and child. One of the proposals would be to expand the food basket of Public Distribution System (PDS) for those who belong to socio-economic weaker section. The current basket is only taking care of food insecurity by providing only cereals. Nutritional security has a big gap in current system. We need to fill it with millets, pulses, fruits, vegetables and animals’ proteins. We have to think about policy intervention which make these food baskets affordable to people. They can access which is currently sub-optimal available.”

In another session, Mina Swaminathan Media Fellows 2020 presented their works how the Pandemic impacted gender in three states – Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Odisha. There was also session on Policies to Nutritional Security of Women and Children.

The three-day event ended with plenary session chaired by Dr Madhura Swaminathan, Chairperson, MSSRF. Dr K S Murali presented conclusion from eight sessions taken place in the past two days. The outcomes of different sessions will be shared with different governments and agencies.

You can access all the sessions on


The COVID-19 Pandemic has affected food security and threatened livelihood opportunities for millions of people. Its impact is stalling the global efforts to meet the “Zero Hunger” challenge and crushing livelihood opportunities.

At the same time, vulnerabilities on account of Global warming and other aspects of climate change are intensifying floods and droughts, in turn affecting food production and livelihoods. The temperature rise created a significant impact on food production and nutrition security.

In this context, the MSSRF organizing a three-day consultation to understand the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the time of climate change and to find solutions to food and nutrition insecurity concerns while addressing issues of livelihoods.


M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) established in 1988 is a not-for-profit trust. MSSRF was envisioned and founded by Professor M S Swaminathan, agriculture scientist with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that he received in 1987. The Foundation aims to accelerate use of modern science for sustainable agricultural and rural development. MSSRF focuses specifically on tribal and rural communities with a pro-poor, pro-women and pro-nature approach. The Foundation applies appropriate science and technology options to address practical problems faced by rural populations in agriculture, food and nutrition.