Nutrition awareness: Enhancing Food Security through Nutri- Gardens in India

October 16, 2020 5:05 PM

Zero hunger and enhanced nutrition can transform future generations. However, malnutrition remains a major threat to children’s physical and cognitive growth and development.

It is estimated that India lost nearly 4 percent of the GDP annually in terms of productivity, illness, and death due to multiple co-morbidities related to malnutrition.

By Dr Sujeet Ranjan

India has shown immense political will through the launch of the POSHAN Abhiyaan in 2018 and since then observing a National Nutrition Month every year to raise nutrition awareness. This year too, in 2020, the focus has been on management of Severe Acute Malnutrition and the cultivation of Nutri-gardens in communities.

However, despite progressive strategies adopted by the country, evidence shows that India has 24% of the world’s malnourished. 9.3 million children under five years have Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) – defined by a very low weight for height. These factors only act as deterrents to the country’s future growth prospects and economic developments.

Zero hunger and enhanced nutrition can transform future generations. However, malnutrition remains a major threat to children’s physical and cognitive growth and development.

It is most prevalent in India, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4, 2015-16) 38.4 percent of children under 5 years of age are stunted (low height for age), 21 percent are wasted (low weight for height).

India’s first Comprehensive National Nutritional Survey reported that only 6.4 per cent of children aged less than two years get a ‘minimum acceptable diet’ (a composite measure of feeding frequency and diet diversity). It is estimated that India lost nearly 4 percent of the GDP annually in terms of productivity, illness, and death due to multiple co-morbidities related to malnutrition.

With this context, the cultivation of nutria-gardens should be largely promoted so that mothers can participate in income generation activities and hence cater to their own nutritional needs and thereafter their families. This concept is a multidimensional effort to reduce malnutrition as it not only ensures food and nutrition security but also food safety. It also has the additional value of being indigenous and provides a sustainable solution to tackling malnutrition. It can demonstrate desired outcomes in health indicators at the community level if integrated well within existing programmes such as the Integrated Child Development Schemes (ICDS).

A nutrition garden is a habitat from which nutritionally rich fruits, vegetables and food from livestock sources can be cultivated. It is intended for proper utilization of community spaces to support the dietary requirements of a family. Seasonal vegetables are grown by utilizing locally generated waste. available wastes. Once grown, it can be used for a long period and fulfill daily needs of the family which is the primary objective of this concept.

At Anganwadi Center (AWC), THR is provided to the malnourished children along with a hot cooked meal. A Nutri-garden at AWC is a way to promote indigenous foods, raise nutrition awareness in the local households and thereby enhancing community dietary habits. This will also address the micronutrient deficiencies in children as it will provide more options in terms of food diversity in the hot cook meals given to the children. The recent initiative WCD Ministry, GoI in collaboration with Ministry of AYUSH has raised lots of hope in this regard.

Food and feeding behaviors in children are influenced by their family backgrounds. Many families cannot afford or access nutritious foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, meat, and milk. Parents also lack knowledge on appropriate foods and feeding practices for the child’s age and have inadequate awareness or means for appropriate health-seeking behavior. Many issues with the Public Distribution System (PDS) such as unavailability of ration cards, shortage of different commodities etc. can also be resolved through this initiative.

Nutri-garden is a much-needed long term sustainable solution, which caters to the food security and nutrition diversity of the community and the environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has had huge ramifications on food and health systems, provision of nutri-garden via MGNREGA will not only ensure food security and diversity to the family but generate livelihood prospects for the country.

The author is Executive Director, The Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security (CFNS). Views expressed are the author’s own.

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