Cornell University

Solutions to malnutrition in India: Evidence from diverse approaches in Uttar Pradesh, by Kathryn Merckel and Payal Seth

Monday, November 25, 2019 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) remains a major malnutrition concern in many areas in rural India, particularly among women, children, and other vulnerable populations. The most sustainable and effective strategy to reduce VAD is diversification of diet to include more vitamin-A (VA) rich fruits, vegetables, and animal-source foods. The orange-flesh sweet potato (OFSP) can meet the VA requirements of a child with just a 1/3 cup serving per day, requires minimal inputs as a crop, and can be shared easily through vine cuttings. A three-arm randomized trial was conducted to test the most effective strategies to increase the production and consumption of OFSP in fifteen villages in rural Uttar Pradesh. Five villages served as controls, receiving no intervention. The remaining ten villages received 6 months of agricultural promotion of OFSP via monthly Farmer Field Schools (FSS), including one distribution of planting material at the start of the study. Five of these ten villages were randomly selected to receive additional nutrition training and education through monthly meetings and village events focusing on the importance of vitamin A, the uses of OFSP in the diet, and beneficial infant and young child feeding practices. The results of this study indicate that OFSP is a viable solution towards improving vitamin A sufficiency in diet, and that receiving nutrition education does not significantly alter the likelihood of OFSP production or consumption. Rather, production is mediated by agricultural factors such as availability of land, planting material, and time, as well as the experiences of friends and neighbors in producing good harvests.

Payal Seth is a Ph.D. candidate in the field of Applied Economics and Management. Her work is primarily focused on development economics and applied econometrics. As a Tata-Cornell Scholar, her fieldwork involves around 1,000 households in 15 rural villages in India as she explores the linkages between sanitation and nutrition. 545 toilets have been built in the project villages with the aim of combatting the rampant practice of open defecation, using tools of behavior change communication and quantifying the impact of this intervention on the child health, sanitation practices, and the safety of women. Prior to joining Cornell, she graduated first in her class attaining a Bachelor’s in Economics from I.P College, Delhi University (DU) and ranked seventh in Delhi School of Economics, DU during her Master’s degree.

Kathryn Merckel is a Tata-Cornell Scholar and PhD candidate in Nutritional Sciences with a concentration on international nutrition and development economics. She is a member of the Tata-Cornell Institute (TCI) research group, which she first joined in 2013 while completing her Master’s degree in International Development at Cornell. Previously, she studied Food Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where she studied food security in Tanzania as a David L. Boren Scholar. Her current research—supported by both TCI and a Fellowship for Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS)—is on the effectiveness of nutrition and agricultural interventions to promote bio-fortified crops to farmers and families in rural India. She studies how adoption of micronutrient-rich crops translates to diversified diets and improved nutrition for women and children, using aspects of social marketing and nutrition behavior change to design interventions that reach their target audience, leading to lasting improvements in health.

Photo credit - Vidyawati Devi    

For more information about Payal Seth's and Kathryn Merckel's work with Prof. Prabhu Pingali andthe Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition, please read this article in the Cornell Chronicle by Jonathan Miller.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, Tatkon Center for First-Year Students, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Division of Nutritional Sciences






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Payal Seth and Kathryn Merckel

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