Double Fortified Salt: Smartening and strengthening a school lunch in India

Children line up to receive a lunch of rice, boiled eggs and sambhar, a lentil dish prepared using double fortified salt (DFS), a special kind of salt that contains both iron and iodine, two micronutrients that are critical for mental and physical development.

Children line up to receive a lunch of rice, boiled eggs and sambhar, a lentil dish prepared using double fortified salt (DFS), a special kind of salt that contains both iron and iodine, two micronutrients that are critical for mental and physical development.

On the map it’s hard to locate Melakidaram, a tiny village in coastal Tamil Nadu, India, with less than a thousand households.

It is equally tough to find it by road as you negotiate miles of desolate landscape. In this remote village in drought-prone Ramnad district neither agriculture thrives nor is there any industrial activity of note.

And yet the Government Higher Secondary High School breaks many stereotypes. Like most village schools in India, you will find the odd cow, goat and hen wandering freely in the school compound.

But unlike other such schools where students sit on the floor, here the classrooms boast chairs, desks and blackboards. The school has a computer centre, and has a credible pass rate of 84 per cent in 10th standard.

Most students continue up to Class 12. The teachers are proud that there are as many girls as boys attending the school, with the total of 508 students split neatly into 254 boys and 254 girls. The students look bright-eyed and cheerful.

As the bell rings announcing lunch, students pour out of the classrooms to queue up for their noon meal. A pesky goat joins the children in the queue and butts his way ahead, only to be pushed away firmly.

Today, the menu at school is rice, boiled eggs and sambhar, a lentil dish prepared using double fortified salt (DFS), a special kind of salt that contains both iron and iodine. The two micronutrients are critical for mental and physical development. Since 2005 through the Tamil Nadu state-sponsored mid-day meal scheme, the school has been getting DFS in its monthly rations.

Double Fortified Salt delivers small but crucial daily amounts of iodine and iron. Iodine is critical for brain development and iron is critical for mental and physical ability.

Prior to the development of DFS iron could not be added to iodized salt because the properties in the two nutrients cancelled each other out when combined.

But award-winning research by the Micronutrient Initiative and The University of Toronto, with financial support from the Canadian International Development Agency and the World Bank, made it a possibility.

The fortification of salt with iodine has been hailed as one of the world’s great public health advancements. Now a breakthrough technology that allows salt to be double-fortified with iron as well as iodine has created an exciting new opportunity to reach the world with supplemental iron.

This community in Tamil Nadu was among the first to experience the benefits of DFS. Adopted by the state government as a tool for learning and for health, millions of children in Tamil Nadu are beneficiaries of this pioneering program.

As the children devour their food, a teacher named Bhuvaneshwari reveals that the school has a lot to thank this new kind of salt for. The teachers believe that the nutritious mid-day meal, prepared with DFS, contributes to the energetic enthusiasm of the students and helps ensure attendance, while the salt factory nearby is the generous benefactor of furniture to the school. The Tamil Nadu Salt Corporation (TNSC) at Valinokkam also employs many of the children´s parents.

The success of this program in Tamil Nadu sets the stage for bringing DFS to millions, perhaps billions of people around the world.