As the world continues to battle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, another crisis looms in the background. Hunger is on the rise again. Though over the past decade, we have witnessed some decline in the prevalence of undernourishment; however, the projected global economic slowdown has threatened food security for those who face inequalities of income and other resources by as much as 20% more. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 820 million people are deprived of food as of 2019, and it continues to disproportionately affect millions of children worldwide.
In the past two decades, India has made significant efforts to curb hunger and ensure food security for its people. The National Food Security Act was designed to cover the entire life cycle of food insecurity. The ambitious National Nutrition Mission(Poshan) aims at addressing stunting, anemia, low birth weight. Similarly, the ‘National Programme of Mid-Day Meal in Schools, as it is known today, was launched in 1995 by the Govt. of India to enhance enrolment, retention, and attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children. However, much remains to be done as per a recent NITI Aayog report. 35% of all children in the country are stunted, 33% are underweight children, and 50% of women in the country are anemic. Few states such as Jharkhand, MP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and UP have the imperative and opportunity to accelerate their progress on various food security indicators, and India Inc., with its unique social responsibility context, has an extremely important role to play.
Bring Business and Communities together to tackle rising hunger
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 has an ambitious aim to end all forms of malnutrition, including stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons. The NITI Aayog, on its part, has selected three out of the eight SDG targets under Zero Hunger to measure the country’s progress.
The concept of ‘Creating shared value’ can make a world of difference to accelerate the achievement of these targets.
Given the indivisibility of the 2030 Agenda, our policies and efforts towards achieving the SDGs should be multi-sectoral and impact not just the outcomes of these goals but multiple targets across the SDG value chain. For instance, the introduction of school meals can help attain the goal of promoting health and wellbeing, thereby ensuring seamless education.
Poor nutrition causes stillbirths and infant mortality, while, conversely, more biodiverse and resilient agricultural production systems can help foster improved food security and improved nutrition among rural populations. These interlinkages can be realised by providing widespread and universal health coverage to an individual at low cost, ensuring that as we move forward, we leave no one behind.
An inclusive approach focused on positioning expansive mobile healthcare services networks linked with Primary health centers as hubs, with a special focus on women, children, and the elderly is pivotal to this approach. Juxtaposed with national priorities and focused ‘opportunities areas’ as laid out in the SDG India Index 2020, and the SDG Investors Map 2020 published by NITI Aayog, businesses, regardless of their core purpose, have a clear imperative to redirect their capitals and capacities to the most underserved areas of the country; in specialized interventions with cohorts most at risk.
Reducing Gender Inequalities and Social Exclusion
Hunger starts early in the life cycle, where mothers suffering from anemia are likely to produce underweight children, who continue to suffer malnutrition because of the poverty of their households. Reducing gender inequalities and social exclusion should therefore be either the means to or the outcome of improved food security and nutrition.
And just as a lack of trained teachers, inadequate learning materials, makeshift classes, and poor sanitation facilities make learning difficult for many children, others come to school too hungry, sick, or exhausted from work or household tasks to benefit from their lessons. Migration is another emerging cross-cutting factor that not only affects learning outcomes in education, access to health, and acquiring market-relevant skills but is constantly intensifying these inequalities.
Rather than focusing on health, education, or employment in isolation, addressing all the aspects of such multi-dimensional challenges is significant.
Fostering Resilient Food Security Systems in Communities
More than 60 per cent of India’s population depends on agriculture, despite rapid urbanization and increased livelihood diversification. There is an irrefutable link between India’s biodiversity conservation, agricultural production, and poverty. Land degradation, because of increased fragmentation, overuse, unsustainable yield increase practices soil and water pollution is a critical issue affecting resource productivity, and 1/3rd of Indian soil is affected by surface erosion. This directly impacts food production systems, especially for marginal landholders, who often till the land for mere subsistence. Degrading forest and water bodies not only poses challenges of human-wildlife conflict and resource unavailability but also threatens the very existence of food production systems.
To foster a resilient food security system in communities, businesses need to work closely with small land-holding farmers. Provision of adequate water supply along with small productive activities, such as home gardens, fruit trees, and small off-season vegetable plots coupled with capacity building and imparting package of farming practices can scale Agri production for both small and marginal farmers. Moreover, integrating best natural resource management practices primarily around land development, arresting soil erosion, regeneration of catchment areas of water bodies, plantation, and forest conservation is essential for long-term agricultural sustainability.
With the shared value vision already integrated into the business strategies of many companies, executing contextual outcome-based programmes to address the rising challenge of food insecurity should not be a colossal task. The focus, however, must be on empowering the underserved groups such as smallholder families, through agriculture productivity enhancement programmes, especially to encourage the women farmers to grow their food, provide their children with the best nourishment possible and go beyond subsistence to augment their disposable incomes and purchasing power to ensure a better quality of life
Fostering resilient communities is not merely a race to achieve the SDGs or differentiate business responsibility but an effort to steward India’s development journey in its golden phase.
(The author is Head, CSR, Sustainability and Communications, Pernod Ricard India)
Fostering Food Security in Communities with Nutritional Gardens
About the initiative on Nutritional Gardens
Pernod Ricard India Foundation (PRIF)’s project Vikalp under its flagship programme WAL (water, agriculture, livelihoods) instituted nutritional Garden concept in the three working blocks (Karera, Picchore and Khaniyadhana) of Shivpuri district in Madhya Pradesh. The main purpose of starting the initiative of a nutritional garden was to address the lack of awareness among families regarding the need for nutrients in growing children and women.
The people in the villages generally restrict their consumption to specific kinds of vegetables found locally, and prefer not to experiment. This is one reason why growing children, pregnant women, even the elderly, suffer from the consequences of nutritional deficiency.
The nutritional garden activity was designed using small bits of land owned by the farmers, and they were encouraged to grow vegetables following the seasonal calendar so that in each season there would be something new for the family to consume. The size of land engaged in the model was 1256sq ft in circular shape. A total of 596 families have participated in the nutritional garden initiative through the PRIF Vikalp Project.
Rushma Ojha is a farmer from Mamoni Khurd village, block Karera. Rushma owns just 2 bigha of land but the entire land is semi-irrigated. Like any other family in the vicinity, her family too grows wheat as their main crop, just to meet their family needs. Her husband Mahesh Ojha is suffering from chronic illness and paralysis, and not capable of any strenuous work. So, the whole responsibility of the family needs falls on Rushma. She is the mother of 4 children, two married daughters and two young sons who are just 12 and 13 years old.
The uneven land, lack of irrigation and low agriculture productivity has been a big barrier to peace and happiness in Rushma’s life. Geographically, Mamoni Khurd village is a semi-arid region with rainfall of 863 mm annually. The small, marginal, fragmented, unirrigated and mono crop agriculture holdings and low productive livestock population do not offer adequate opportunities for their livelihood for these communities.
But some farmers like Rushma have taken up the challenge and decided to work on maximising production from her small bit of land, and after joining in producer groups she became aware of the need for better nutrition for growing children.
With the support of Project Vikalp, Rushma started first started a nutritional garden (Poshan Vatika) in her small piece of land 1256 Sq.ft. Through the nutritional garden, Rushma wanted to meet the daily need of vegetables for her family and to save the money used to buy vegetables. Additionally, she began to see the nutritional garden as a means to increasing the nutrient supplements for her growing children.
Then in the Rabi season Rushma also demonstrated wheat cultivation with improved practices on her land. She also took some bold, out-of-the-box decisions, and tried growing an improved variety of wheat Raj-4037. Some of the key practices adopted by her included introducing good variety of certified seed, practicing seed treatment, seed rate, proper and timely use of manure in the field, spacing and timely irrigation. With her hard work and by following the best package of practice this season she was able to harvest 10 quintals of wheat per bigha which is 1.5 times more than the usual/average harvest of the area.
Now with this she is more confident and has decided to follow the practices with every agriculture crop she grows. Also, she now has decided to train more residents of her village to follow improved agriculture practices.