Strengthening A Nutrition Sensitive Approach In Agriculture In India

poshan.outlookindia.com | May 20, 2021

The urban and rural population in India still faces nutrition linked health concerns due to a non-balanced diet. Let’s take a look at how various public-private initiatives has helped in meeting the nutritional challenges.

M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) runs the ‘Annadata Nuritional Garden Model’ in Kundra Block of tribal dominated Koratpur District, Odisha State. This district is one of the sixty-nine districts identified as being disadvantaged in terms of poverty, hunger, infant mortality, immunization, literacy, school enrollment and gender disparity.

Once covered with dense forests, this mineral rich district has been facing rapid deforestation as also the wrath of climate change, deeply impacting the tribal farmers’ traditional agricultural methods. Declining crop yield in paddy, that requires a lot of water for cultivation, is also an offshoot of these evolving critical phenomenon in this rainfed district.

The MSSRF Model aims at building the capacity of women farmers through self-help groups (SHGs) to cultivate fruits, vegetables in their backyards on a pilot scale. This is a structured garden with multiple crops to enhance food and nutritional security of the family. The crops range from leafy vegetables to fruits and spices grown in the organic mode.

The Annadata Model’s sustained interventions, especially through participatory communication, have led to a positive change in the consumption patterns. The daily diet has now been balanced in terms of vegetables, fruits and in addition pulses, that are rich in a wide range of nutrients including minerals and vitamins. More significantly, this approach has taken care of nutritional security of the families for the entire year.

As per the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4) about 35.6 % of our children below the age of five are under weight (too thin for their age), 38.4 % are stunted (too short for their age), 21% are wasted (too thin for their height, age). Further about 8% are acutely malnourished (hidden hunger occurring on account of deficiencies of micro-nutrients such as vitamins or minerals). The data also indicates that almost half of the population is anemic and at the same time 20% and 18% of the population is overweight and obese (excess of macro-nutrients-calorie in particular) respectively.

The country’s national nutrition strategy includes programs such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) that focuses on children and nursing mothers. The Government of India also runs the Midday Meal Program (MDM) for providing fresh cooked meals in schools. Besides, there is the provision of affordable nutritious food as a legal entitlement for the vulnerable and poorest.

Care for acute malnutrition is supplemented, in addition, through rehabilitation centers run under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). There are also food safety regulations and programs for making available bio-fortified crops such as iron rich bajra, protein rich maize and zinc rich wheat.

The Report of the Committee on Doubling Farmers Income (DFI), 2017 observes that the urban and rural population in India is still facing nutrition linked health concerns (e.g., due to non-balanced diet) despite the fact that the country produces large quantities of high nutrition foods such as cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat and eggs.

The plate, it adds, impacts the demand of inputs at farms. The Report therefore recommends that interventions at the last mile should be designed to recover demand for crops that create value not only for farmers’ return but also for families’ access to nutrition, health and well-being.

For instance, experts contend that millets (Jowar, Ragi, Bajra etc.) are three to five times more nutritious than wheat and rice in terms of proteins, minerals and vitamins. They need very little water for production (require just around 25% of the rainfall regime demanded by crops such as Sugarcane and Banana).

More importantly, they can be grown in vast dryland areas using farmyard manures thus reducing the dependence on synthetic fertilizers. Thus, expansion of a robust millet cropping system and its promotion in the country is providing multiple securities including nutrition keeping in mind the impact of climate change.

Experts further state that a key factor that hampers access to nutritious food in a family is its inequitable allocation for women and young children. Rural women, especially as farmers, have a critical role to play in sowing, weeding and harvesting of agricultural crops. Women’s empowerment, therefore, can have a direct impact on agricultural productivity as well as making nutrition ‘inclusive’ at home in true sense of the word.

Hence, the Governments’ push for investments, such as the setting up of Agri Infrastructure Fund (AIF), that fosters funding for women farmer collectives such as self-help groups and their federations. The Promotion of 10,000 Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) program, in addition, aims at their effective participation as member shareholders in these entities.

In fact, agricultural extension too has a very critical role to play. Nonprofit communication organizations such as ‘Digital Green’ have been supplementing the efforts of the National Rural Livelihood Missions (NRLM), at the last mile, in developing and promoting nutrition sensitive agriculture curriculum through community led videos.

Typically, these participatory videos empower women farmers on themes such as seasonal changes that affect nutrition and addressing challenges from agricultural production through buying and selling.

India’s agriculture and food security policies, thus, are now going beyond the calorie sufficiency approach towards ensuring access to a nutritionally balanced and diverse diet. One of the key drivers of this change is the expansion of the modern food retail industry valued at $ 380 billion during the last decade.

Altered consumption patterns, as a result, have provided an opportunity to modern agri-food systems to evolve in the organized sector. At the same time, as climate change threatens the production of crops, the Government is evolving and propagating technologies for drought, heat and flood resistant non- staples (pulses, fruits and vegetables) in addition to staple grains. This is to mitigate vulnerability of the poorest against malnutrition especially in states of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The grassroots efforts of public- private initiatives such as that of the Swaminathan Research Foundation and Digital Green, to meet local and regional nutritional challenges for the poorest, are laudable. We direly need to reenergize a nutrition sensitive approach in agriculture by strengthening the capacities of our last mile governance institutions such as Krishi Vikas Kendras (KVKs), Common Service Centers (CSCs) and Gram Panchayats, in addition.

COVID-19: Increasing Cases Reported Among Vulnerable Tribal Communities in Central India

News Click | May 19, 2021

Lack of testing, reluctance towards vaccination in the absence of awareness measures and severely under-reported deaths mark the second wave of the pandemic for the tribal groups in Odisha, MP, Gujarat and Karnataka.

As the second wave of COVID-19 wreaks havoc in urban cities, infections are reportedly increasing across vulnerable tribal belts in several states in central and southern India, including Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Tribal people account for around 370 million people in 70 countries around the world and make up 8.2% of the population in India.

According to tribal rights activists, the government has failed to check the invasion of the virus into the tribal communities in the central Indian states in the absence of specific protocols to tackle its spread.

Despite their relative isolation, members of many tribal groups in central India have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. The surge in infections in closed communities is being attributed to the movement of outsiders and contact spreading through local markets among other reasons. However, what makes the spread more worrisome are the nutritional and health discrepancies among the communities, increasing distrust of government policies including vaccination and limited access to healthcare system, making infectious diseases specially COVID-19 deadlier among these groups.

Speaking to NewsClick about it, Rajaram Sunderesan, a researcher based in Odisha associated with tribal studies explained the crisis, “The Odisha Government’s COVID-19 management practices were at one point being hailed by everyone but, on the contrary, the truth is that this government is clueless about tackling the spread of the virus when it comes to adivasi areas. Odisha has one of the largest number of tribal communities in the country, but the government till now has not come up with any prescribed guidelines on tackling the situation on the ground.”

He said, “Historically, it is well known that the state health agencies, including primary and community health centres, have treated people from adivasi communities with utmost disrespect and indignity. The government desperately needs to decentralise its COVID-19 management process. It also needs to understand that the idea of home isolation will not work within adivasi communities. This is because the notion of privacy is very different within adivasi cultures.”

“The government must open its eyes and ears to the requirements of these communities or the situation will descend into crisis like the 16th century epidemics that wiped out whole adivasi communities,” Sunderasan added.

In Maharashtra’s Palghar, tribals from Kunbi, Bhandari and Warli communities are battling a grave shortage of ICU beds and medicines as anxieties soar about the spread of community infection.

On the other hand, several tribal hamlets in Karnataka’s Mysuru and Kodagu region have reported a surge in infections. At least 15 tribals belonging to the Soliga community have contracted the infection over the past week. Cases have been reported from the traditional honey gathering Jenu Kuruba tribe as well.

Gujarat’s Bhil tribal group has also reported cases of fatal infection in the villages surrounding the Statue of Unity. However, lack of testing and data collection, and suppression of information in these areas has reportedly led to fragmented information about COVID-19 related deaths among the community.

Confirming community infection and casualties, Chhotubhai Vasava, a tribal leader from Gujarat, said, “There is no model for the treatment of the adivasis amid the pandemic. In addition to many cases in the remote belts of Dahoud and Panchamal, in the area surrounding the Statue of Unity, over 34 COVID-19 related deaths of Bhils have also been reported. However, only 9-10 deaths were recorded as major cases were unaccounted for. In remote tribal regions, the communities have locked their areas from outside contact to minimise the spread of infection. This is being done by the communities themselves as the state government has failed to address the issues of the tribal communities.”

Further, the COVID-19 crisis has also fuelled suspicions and anxieties among tribal communities contributing to reluctance and fears regarding the vaccination process, as per reports. Meanwhile, the Centre and the state governments have initiated vaccination, but distrust towards government machinery remains strong, Vasava added.

Highlighting the situation in tribal belts of Burhanpur region in Madhya Pradesh, Madhuri Krishnaswamy of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, said, “There are huge fever surges, sometimes pneumonia like symptoms. Compared to the urban areas, the symptoms among the tribals in remote areas are mild and moderate.”

Commenting on the doubts surrounding vaccination and so on, she added, “On the other hand, there is the question of vaccination. People on the ground do not fear COVID-19 as much as the alleged cases of post-vaccination deaths. Many are viewing this as an attack by the government on the poor, especially as last year even the mildly symptomatic were whisked off to COVID-19 centres against their will. Also there has been no attempt made by the government to disseminate information about the vaccines and the people who are at potential risk from the vaccine.”

Bengaluru: 100-bed super speciality hospital to come up at Hutti Gold Mines camp site

Daijiworld | May 19, 2021

Bengaluru, May 19: Mines and Geology Minister Murugesh Nirani laid the foundation for establishing a 100-bed super speciality hospital at Hutti Gold Mines campsite in Raichuru district on Wednesday.

The super speciality hospital will be jointly funded by Hutti Gold Mines Ltd (HGML), State Mines and Geology Department through District Mineral Foundation (DMF) Fund and State Labour department.

The camp site already has a 120-bed hospital exclusively for the medical needs of 5000-odd employees of HGML.

As covid-19 cases surged, the minister decided to convert 40-beds into oxygenated beds for the treatment of the patients. The new super-speciality hospital will come to the same campsite.

After laying the foundation for the facility, the minister ordered the HGML authorities to procure a CT scanner immediately.

“This will help detect Covid-19 infections among the people amid the growing number of cases in the second wave of Coronavirus,” he said.

Nirani also set in motion to set up a nursing college at Hutti Gold Mines campsite. This will help address shortage and provide placements to nurses and paramedics at hospitals in Raichuru district.

Minister Nirani had earlier announced to set up a Covid Care Centre in the vicinity of the HGML. This will help provide better treatment to the employees of Hutti Gold Mines and people in the surrounding villages that have been witnessing a growing number of Covid-19 cases.

The minister has instructed authorities to stop mining operations in Hutti Gold Mines in order to protect employees from Covid-19 pandemic.

He said it would be very difficult for the miners and other staff to maintain social distancing and other norms while carrying out mining operations underground and moving in a shaft.

The state government was more concerned about the well-being of employees than generating revenue during the public health crisis, Nirani said.

50% of DMF fund to be utilised for fighting corona infection in Durg

The Hitavada | May 19, 2021

All the members of District Mineral Foundation (DMF) emphasized on the use of DMF’s resources to deal with the corona infection in the meeting of DMF Governing Council held on Tuesday. Members said that keeping in view the apprehension of the third wave, it is very important that adequate arrangements are made to deal with it and for this adequate funds should be made available through DMF. In the meeting, the Minister in-charge of the district, Mohammad Akbar said that with the opinion and decision of the members, half the amount i.e. about Rs 3 crores should be reserved for expenditure under this head.

After consideration of the proposals of the honorable members from the remaining Rs 3 crore 38 lakh, work on them should be started. Home and PWD Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu said that the remaining amount should be sanctioned for the development works which are of the most urgent nature. Agriculture Minister Ravindra Choubey said that DMF will have to constantly update its resources to provide help. PHE Minister Guru Rudra Kumar said that DMF have continuously worked in this direction and further preparation will be very useful for us.

Durg MLA Arun Vora kept the major demands of the area in the meeting. Vaishali Nagar MLA Vidyaratan Bhasin said that the vaccination process will be long, construction work can be started from the DMF item at the vaccination sites so that people do not face problems in the rainy season. Bhilai MLA raised the issue of drinking water in the township. Collector Dr Bhure said that the BSP management has been told to change the technology of the filter plant and take immediate measures. The administration has conducted a re-test of drinking water and the quality has improved. At the meeting, Collector Dr Bhure informed in detail about the work done so far from DMF resources. He said that works worth Rs 133 crore have been proposed so far, most of which have been completed. Out of 3475 sanctioned works, 352 works are in progress. District Panchayat President Shalini Yadav, BMC Commissioner Rituraj Raghuvanshi, District Panchayat CEO Sachchidanand Alok, Risali Corporation Commissioner Prakash Surve and other officials were present in the meeting.

In Odisha’s Sundargarh district, villagers are on a ‘do-or-die’ agitation to check coal pollution

Scroll.in | May 19, 2021

Trucks from the Kulda opencast mine pass through 19 villages, swathing them with fine coal dust.

For over a decade, the villages near the Kulda opencast mine in Odisha’s Hemgiri block in the Sundargarh district have been fighting coal pollution without respite. In a desperate bid to highlight their unrelenting situation, the people of the area are now locked in a “do or die” agitation against the project since January.

In February, Rajendra Naik, a human rights defender from Ratanpur, one of the affected villages located 10 km from the Kulda mines, filed an application in the Odisha High Court, against the central and state government and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited, a subsidiary of Coal India, which manages the mine. He submitted that the coal transport passing by Ratanpur and 25 villages along a 30 km stretch to Chhattisgarh violated the environmental clearance for the mine in 2002 and in 2018, which stipulated that the coal transported by road, shall be carried out by covered/conveyers with effective control measures.

The Odisha High Court in its order on March 17 directed the collector of Sundargarh district to hold a detailed enquiry involving local villagers and representatives of the government of Odisha and the centre. The collector, Nikhil Pavan Kalyan, held a meeting on March 23 following which he passed an order on March 24 restricting the plying of vehicles from 6 am to 1 pm except on public holidays.

His order called for covering the vehicles, increasing the water sprinkling in the villages for dust suppression, raising the school walls high to prevent dust. The district administration was asked to assess crop damage due to dust and impact on ponds in the area.

Since 2007-’08, the residents of Taparia, Ratanpur and other nearby villages in the Hemgir block of Sundargarh district have suffered incessant dust pollution from the daily 3,000 dumper trucks of coal which pass through their villages.

On January 19, they launched an agitation that is still going on, even though the authorities have tried to suppress it in many ways. Despite the collector’s order in March, the restriction on trucks plying is already being violated, according to local residents. Earlier court directives to control coal pollution have failed due to administrative apathy.

The villagers affected by pollution had opposed the expansion of the mine’s capacity, citing non -compliance with an earlier environmental clearance for a year in 2018, which increased the mine’s capacity from 10 million tonnes per annum to 14 million tonnes per annum. There were many conditions attached to this clearance that included regular medical camps, controlling fugitive emissions along the road with mechanised sweeping and spraying and creating a thick green belt in the downwind direction of the project site.

Despite the residents’ opposition, in January, an expert appraisal committee of the Indian government’s environment ministry recommended the expansion of Kulda mine’s capacity from 14 million tonnes per annum to 19.6 million tonnes per annum.

A news report in January mentioned “the economic blockade at Taparia village by locals who disrupted the movement of coal-laden trucks on Bankibahal-Taparia road”. It said that initially, the protestors were demanding repair of the damaged road but now are adamant about stopping the transportation of coal through their village.

Coal dust pollution
Far from it being an issue of road repair or merely transportation or even an economic blockade, it is a critical issue of coal pollution which the scheduled tribe and scheduled caste communities which live in these villages near the Kulda and Basundhara mines have suffered for over a decade. The coal is transported to various places in Chhattisgarh and the 25 km road stretch between Bankibahal and Tiparia on the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border has dwindled to an unmotorable mess of potholes and stones.

Every day the trucks from the opencast mine at Kulda pass through 19 villages, and swathe the villages with fine coast dust which affects thousands of people, said Naresh Meher, one of the protestors. The road, which is the main bone of contention, is not the only thing at stake for the communities. The intense coal pollution disrupts every single minute of their lives.

It is after a decade-long struggle against pollution and exploring legal avenues that the affected villages embarked on a “do or die” agitation as one of the protestors, Naresh Meher told Mongabay-India. He is among those jailed and harassed for the protests.

Odisha has the second-largest coal reserves (24%) in the country with stocks of almost 80 billion tonnes. On April 2, at the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited annual press conference, PK Sinha, who is the Chairman-cum-Managing Director, said that coal production and despatch of the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited during the financial year 2020-’21 was the highest ever at 148.01 million tonnes and 146 million tonnes respectively.

Earlier in October 2020, it had bagged five Coal India awards, including two corporate awards for Corporate Social Responsibility and Quality and also the first prize for the CSR implementation in Coal India.

Despite these sterling qualities, the company has clearly fallen short of controlling coal pollution. A site inspection and monitoring report of 2019, by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change shows that concentrations of particulate matters PM10 and PM2.5 are above permissible limits in the area and it was suggested that more sprinkling and control measures needed to be carried out. Also, the company was not monitoring fugitive dust emissions from the mining operations, among several shortcomings.

Moreover, the promised green belt is also nowhere to be found and there is no proper health assessment on the impact of coal pollution, said Meher, from the Janshakti Vikas Sanghatana, a coalition of affected communities from 25 villages in the area. He alleged that the health situation has worsened over the years. He suffered from tuberculosis as do other people in Ratanpur village and two of his uncles passed away due to cancer. His younger brother died after he contracted tuberculosis and then cancer.

Finally, unable to take it any longer, the community formed a group this year mainly to deal with the long pending issues of pollution, livelihoods and health.

Meher said that his father owned seven acres in Ratanpur, which was acquired for the mines, about ten km away. “We have lost land in the mine but there are no jobs for us,” he pointed out. “In Ratanpur village alone, there were some 19 acres of cultivated land which was acquired for mining.”

This area had a dense forest with panthers but since a few years, there has been no sighting, said Sarita Barpanda, a lawyer with the Human Right Law Network who is helping Meher and others in the local region with their legal cases.

Impact on agriculture
The pollution is not only impacting the health of the people but is also affecting the livelihoods of the people. The dust from coal has adverse impacts on the cultivation of paddy and kendu (or tendu leaves used for rolling tobacco in beedis) leaves.

Often they are discoloured and do not fetch good prices in the market, Meher said. But this is not all, as there is an additional problem of slag being dumped on the roads from a sponge iron factory, one km away from Ratanpur, in the name of road repairs. The scheduled castes and tribes in the area do not own much land and they cultivated the nearby forests. Meher said their claims for titles for the forest land under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, have been unsuccessful.

“We have scaled back the level due to Covid-19 but the agitation continues,” Meher said. “Many of us were detained and some including me went to jail. When we started our protest in January in Taparia village, false cases were filed against us and 16 persons were jailed. Then the police enforced prohibitory orders, so we moved to another village – Kandadhoha – to protest.”

There, he alleged that the local transporters and members of a coal mafia, operating in the region, filed cases of attempted murder and dacoity against the protestors following which the police arrested 12 men and 12 women.

After that, the protest soon moved to Ratanpur where they voiced their concerns about poor roads and pollution. On 23 March, the district collector arrived with many police personnel.

Barpanda said: “We spoke to the tehsildar but he supported the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited while saying the company will suffer losses if they do not run the trucks,” she said. “He had no sympathy for the villagers.”

Though the protesters are all geared up to take their latest protest to a meaningful conclusion this is not the first time they have voiced their concerns. The community had filed cases in court to divert the trucks away from their place of habitation but even then, Meher said, the timings were not being adhered to and nothing changed except the police repression.

In 2016, an order by the Odisha High Court had said that the road should be repaired and till then, no vehicle should ply on it. It had reviewed the road from Bankbihal to Taparia and said that two-ton multi-axle vehicles should be stopped till it was repaired.

Prior to that, in 2015, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Odisha government and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited for the construction of a four-lane coal corridor from Bankibahal to Bhedabahal (in Sundargarh district where an ultra-mega power plant is proposed), as the existing road is not fit for multi-axle heavy vehicles.

Since that was not done, the heads of 26 gram panchayats filed a writ petition in the Odisha High Court in 2016. On that, the court ordered the formation of a committee that inspected the road from Sundergarh to Bankibahal/Taparia and submitted its report in March 2017.

The report ordered stopping the movement of trucks from Bankibahal to Taparia till the road was widened and repaired. The court ruled that a coal corridor must be built within a period of two months of the order and must be completed by the end of 2018 “on a war footing basis”.

It had also asked the collector to restrict the movements of vehicles and said that one of the conditions should be that multi-axle vehicles would only ply from 11 pm to 6 am. But none of this happened and orders to restrict truck movement has been wilfully disobeyed.

A Mahanadi Coalfields Limited spokesperson said that there is no alternative to this road and it was being repaired by Jindal Power. He claimed that the timings regarding the movement of trucks are being adhered to and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited was cleaning the ponds and spraying water to control coal dust. He said there was some proposal for a coal corridor but did not have any details.

The spokesperson said the problem the people are facing should be resolved in a few months. Mahanadi Coalfields Limited was also dealing with the pollution, and while there will be some pollution due to coal dust, the company was doing all it can to improve the matter, he said while stressing that the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited holds health camps for the people as well.

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