With livelihoods, nutrition and health services getting affected by COVID-19 pandemic, DAY-NRLM leads a campaign to promote nutri-gardens during POSHAN Maah 2020.This will support nutrition security and income generation in the pockets that are poorest and affected by malnutrition.
The unprecedented onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought up many questions on the ways in which livelihoods, food and nutrition security of rural communities need to be addressed. During the lockdowns, the earlier investments in nutri-based livelihoods such as nutri-gardens and backyard poultry had proved to be a boon, by enabling families to access eggs and nutritious vegetables locally when supply chains, transport and access to markets had been severely affected. Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana- National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM) under the Ministry of Rural Development has leveraged from this experience.
Over 50 per cent of Indian women of reproductive age are anaemic and almost 23 per cent have low BMI, show data from NFHS-4 (2015-16). Women’s access to entitled health and nutrition services too remains a challenge. Data shows that only 51.2percent women had four or more Antenatal Care Visits and 30.3 per cent women took IFA for at least 100 days (NFHS-4). Reports have shown how the nationwide lockdown disrupted provision of essential services for women and adolescent girls, raising concerns on setbacks to earlier gains towards improving women’s nutrition and health during the first 1000 days.
With its network of over 63.3 lakh SHGs and 6.98 crore women members, DAY- NRLM is taking steps to work towards poverty alleviation and social development of poor households, including improving their nutrition and health status. The mission has been reinforcing activities with a focus on strengthening the resilience of community-based institutions to tackle shocks to food and nutrition security brought on by emergencies. This includes a multi-faceted strategy of promoting awareness generation, sustainable behaviour change for improved dietary diversity as well as nutri-based livelihoods amongst its SHG networks to support nutrition requirements in poorest pockets faced with malnutrition.
The strength of SHGs and their federations lies in their outreach, networks and social capital. Capacity building, strengthening of community-based SHG institutions and training of resource persons in the community on nutrition and nutri-sensitive agricultural models has been a key part of strategy and played a key role in the success of these projects. These earlier investments have also provided the required institutional architecture for a community-led scale-up of these activities even as states grapple with rising cases of COVID-19 infection.
Based on evidence that enhancing women’s decision making and economic independence improves allocation of income to food budgets and dietary diversity at the community and household levels, the Mission had initiated Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP) in 2010-11. Since the last five years, MKSP has been universalized in DAY-NRLM with farm livelihoods promotion being added to annual action plans of all State Rural Livelihoods Mission. As of now more than40.22 Lakh households have been supported to set up nutri-gardens. A national advisory based on best practices around the country was also brought out to support state missions. These activities are accompanied by building awareness on the nutrition content of vegetables grown, and the need for multiple food groups on the plate.
The Chhattisgarh Rural Livelihoods Mission (CG-SRLM), has initiated a state-wide strategy under its livelihoods initiatives to promote nutri-gardens. These backyard kitchen gardens or nutri-gardens involve cultivation of different types of nutritious vegetables in the backyard to ensure the nutritional security of families throughout the year. These also specifically aim to provide continuous nutrition support to SHG households including pregnant women, lactating mothers, adolescent girls and children. These gardens are less input intensive and can be managed by using waste water from the household.
The state’s behaviour change communication strategy has laid a special focus on maternal and adolescent health, targeting groups of reproductive age within the 1000 days window. Poshan Sakhis also known as ‘Mangun Mits’ in Chhattisgarh, have been trained to use participatory learning and assessment techniques for behaviour change amongst pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescent girls. This is part of an ongoing pilot programme called ‘Swabhimaan’, implemented in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district. The programme is technically supported by UNICEF India. Along with awareness generation activities amongst these target groups, they also push demand for nutrition services and entitlements, such as those provided in the monthly Village health Sanitation and Nutrition Days. For this they work in tandem with ANMs, ASHAs and Anganwadi Workers to ensure entitlements like the Take Home Ration and consumption of IFA tablets are availed by these target groups. Poshan Sakhis also work closely with Krishi Sakhis to set up kitchen gardens and backyard poultry in the homes of these nutritionally at-risk women. These activities are in addition to the existing emphasis on breastfeeding, complementary feeding and nutrition of children. Learnings from the programme in Chhattisgarh have been scaled up in six districts in the state and will be taken further.
DAY-NRLM has partnered with Civil Society Organisations like PRADAN to promote nutri-sensitive agricultural practices and livelihoods in various districts. Chhattisgarh -State Mission has also converged with departments of agriculture to provide saplings and seeds for development of nutri-gardens. Similar efforts have been underway across the state missions.
The mission is also committed towards making its food nutrition health and WASH strategies gender transformative to ensure women are empowered to address gendered issues that affect access to these services. Women’s health must be foregrounded with strengthening women-led livelihoods and enterprises. These measures are necessary for sustained change to enhance women’s health and achieving nutrition goals set out in the DAY-NRLM as well as in the Poshan Abhiyaan.
The author is, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India