Insights into Editorial: Poshan Abhiyaan promises to revive traditional food systems
India is home to millions of women and children who are undernourished.
Malnutrition was the predominant risk factor for death in children younger than five in every state of India in 2017, accounting for 68.2 per cent of the total under-5 deaths, translating into 706,000 deaths (due to malnutrition). It was also the leading risk factor of loss of health among all age groups.
Due to variability in health and nutrition contexts by state across India, nutrition service delivery needs to be governed and monitored at the state level.
The Government of India has implemented several major programs and policy initiatives to help reduce the alarming rates of undernutrition in the country.
However, nutrition is often just one of many focus areas for state governments.
Nutrition service delivery risks being lost in the shuffle if states do not have oversight or accountability mechanisms for nutrition.
2 of 3 child deaths in India due to malnutrition: Report:
- Revealed in the state-wide data on malnutrition presented by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and National Institute of Nutrition (NIN).
- According to the findings, if the trends estimated up to 2017 for the indicators in the National Nutrition Mission 2022 continue in India, there would be 8.9 per cent excess prevalence for low birthweight, 9.6 per cent for stunting, 4.8 per cent for child underweight, 11.7 per cent for anaemia in children, and 13.8 per cent for anaemia in women relative to the 2022 targets.
- The DALY (disability adjusted life years) rate due to malnutrition was found to be highest in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, and Rajasthan.
- The worst effect of child and maternal malnutrition is reflected in neonatal disorders, followed by lower respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases in children below 5 years.
- The World Bank reports that the annual cost of malnutrition in India is at least $10 billion and is driven by loss of productivity, illness and death.
- Analyses have shown that in order to achieve zero hunger in India by 2030, India will have to liberate nearly 50,000 people from hunger, every day.
Therefore, need to converge Agriculture and Nutrition:
While the two areas share a common foundation, “food”, which reinforces the intimate relationship between them, there has in reality been a significant disconnect in recent times, due to the demands on quantity rather than quality, driven by exponential population growth and needs.
Missions to tackle nutrition from farm to table involve multiple stakeholders, with the government at one end and individuals who can influence consumption patterns at the other end of the agri-nutrition chain.
Such missions must necessarily consider the looping relationships along the food supply chain, to strengthen the linkages between agriculture and nutrition.
The POSHAN Abhiyaan to tackle malnutrition, through a multi-sectoral results-based framework:
The mission, set up under the aegis of the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD), aims at targeted reduction of stunting, undernutrition, anaemia and low-birth-weight babies in India.
Poshan Abhiyaan is twofold at the agricultural level, it aims to amalgamate knowledge of regional food systems and at the consumer level, to foster social and behavioural changes among individuals, especially parents.
The mission also seeks to improve linkages between communities and health systems, thus paving the way for a mass movement to promote a transformative change, referred to as the jan aandolan.
Food and Crop diversity need to be linked with Agro-ecological patterns:
- We need to know what was traditionally grown across the country, what were the nutrition and micro-nutrient content, how can we move away from mono-cropping and increase crop diversity to increase diet diversity.
- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is developing India’s first Poshan Atlas, to create a repository of diverse crops across 127 agro-climatic zones of the country that would be accessible to policy-makers, administrators, experts and communities to help meet nutritional outcomes.
- The replacement of nutrient-dense millets, suited for cultivation under the water-strapped conditions of the country, by other grains has been a result of globalisation.
- Increased awareness about the suitability of millets from both the nutrient standpoint and agricultural logistics is catalysing the slow restoration of these super grains in recent times.
- The Poshan Atlas project will go a long way to address this gap and propel parents and communities to rethink on what to feed and what to consume.
- Awareness and knowledge about our crop diversity and regional variations in nutritious food will provide a nudge for behaviour change across the country propelling demand which, in turn, will provide opportunities to farmers and agro-processing units to address consumer needs.
Without understanding social, behavioural and cultural practices, we cannot promote healthy dietary practices and reinforce healthy dietary behaviours both at individual and community levels keeping in mind wide regional variations.
Substantial improvements across malnutrition indicators in the states of India would require an integrated nutrition policy to effectively address the broader determinants of undernutrition across the life cycle.
These improvements include providing clean drinking water, reducing rates of open defecation, improving women’s status, enhancing agricultural productivity and food security, promoting nutrition sensitive agriculture, coupled with harmonisation of efforts across ministries and sectors, political will and good governance, and strategic investments in a multi-sectoral approach.
Let us all join hands to build a New India where our food and crop diversity can be revived and our traditional knowledge leveraged for tackling undernutrition and malnutrition.