The project will cost US$212,760 (₹14,900,000) and comprise of two main components: R&D, and a public nutrition programme
So far, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has sanctioned the establishment of a Functional Foods Research and Development and Dissemination Centre at the Dr Yashwant Singh Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry.
The main goal of the centre is to refine training on the processing of functional foods, as well as to promote the development of infrastructure for R&D in this area.
Beyond the basics
Focusing on goods and ingredients that offer health benefits exceeding basic nutrition, researchers in the university's Department of Food Science & Technology (part of its College of Horticulture) will assess and experiment on on fruits, vegetables, spices, aromatic and medicinal plants, spices, pulses, cereals and oil seeds in order to develop functional food products.
The technology used to develop these products will then be provided to agrarian women residing in the remote Indian districts of Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Shimla.
To ensure they are able to effectively harness this technology to create a sustainable avenue of sustenance, the researchers will conduct 60 three-day training sessions, each for a group of 20 to 25 women in each district.
Principal project investigator Dr KD Sharma, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, said that if successfully implemented, the project would result in the production of a wide range of functional food products.
It would also pave the way for the establishment of more processing units across the private, co-operative and self-help group sectors in the remote areas of Himachal and the adjoining Uttarakhand, as well as improve dietary standards.
In addition, it would increase farmers' salaries, create more jobs for rural youth, and aid in the prevention of post-harvest spoilage of 15% to 40% (depending on the type of agro-commodity).
Furthermore, a higher volume of local produce in otherwise underdeveloped areas would, according to the university's vice-chancellor Dr HC Sharma, lead to the preservation of Himalayan biodiversity.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, Dr Anju Kumar, head of the College of Horticulture's Department of Food Science & Technology, acknowledged that it was important to remember to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.
Women and children in India have long been disproportionately affected by malnutrition, but nutritional needs still differ among different areas.
Kumari said: "We will concentrate on women in remote areas, so they can our technologies and products to enhance the nutritional status of the areas they live in.
"At the same time, we are looking into what components and ingredients can be used to produce different functional foods. Depending on the nutritional status of a particular rural area, which ingredients and foods are suitable will differ.
"We will take that into account, and accordingly, we will prepare the necessary recipes and products, then transfer it to the people in these rural areas.
"These products must be feasible for them — they must suit their lifestyle patterns and dietary habits and be convenient for them to take, so compliance will be higher."
She added that her team would concentrate on R&D for the first two years of the project, and make the functional foods they have developed available to the public in the aforementioned districts in India in the last year.