The people-driven scheme is backed by government’s flagship nutrition programme POSHAN abhiyaan
Malnutrition and food insecurity have plagued India for several decades. The country has been consistently ranked among the poor performers of the world in the Global Hunger Index.
In 2021, India had 1.8 million severely acute malnourished children, according to the Union Women and Child Development Ministry’s estimates. Children from India’s tribal population suffer the most compared to any other socio-economically disadvantaged population group. Around 40 per cent of the 5 million undernourished tribal children have stunted growth, underweight and severe undernourishment.
Malnourished children do not attain their optimum potential in terms of growth, learning, performance in school, and physical development to work later in life.
India, as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and with the highest demographic advantage, requires a strong and healthy workforce to sustain its growth levels. It is in our best interests to ramp up efforts to eradicate malnutrition.
Even as India accelerates through the spirit of ‘Atmanirbharta’, earnest efforts are being made in addressing this issue with a plethora of schemes, better use of technology, innovative methods and a fully equipped workforce of millions of Anganwadi workers.
These are backed by the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nourishment (POSHAN Abhiyaan), a flagship program to improve nutritional outcomes for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers.
Nutrition indicators for children under five have improved from the levels recorded in the National Family Health Survey (2015-16), according to the findings of the 2019-21 NFHS-5. Stunting has reduced to 35.5 per cent from 38.4 per cent, wasting to 19.3 per cent from 21.0 per cent and underweight prevalence to 32.1 per cent from 35.8 per cent, the latest data showed.
The focus is on holistically addressing the multiple determinants of malnutrition through intervention and services targeted in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. POSHAN Abhiyaan aims to achieve these goals through the convergence of multiple programmes and schemes.
As a part of the programme, technology was leveraged to empower frontline workers with near real-time information, mobile devices and a ‘Poshan Tracker’ to monitor the accessibility of anganwadi services.
Most critically, an endeavor of the magnitude of the POSHAN Abhiyaan that involves bringing about a basic behavioral change in people, requires engagement at a community level and a people’s movement or jan andolan.
Malnutrition has several underlying factors and consequences. Therefore, a multistakeholder nutrition literacy programme targetting primary healthcare professionals (caregivers), mothers, adolescents, elderly, those suffering from tuberculosis and other infectious diseases is the need of the hour.
An integrated approach using targeted education, traditional and modern media and communications and community mobilisation champion engagement.
One of the most unique programmes of the POSHAN Abhiyaan involving people is the introduction of the ‘Poshan Vatika’ or nutri-gardens. Built within the premises of the house or near schools, these gardens provide a fresh supply of fruits and vegetables. In specific cases, nutrient-dense wild edible food plants and medicinal plants are included.
The garden highlights the nutrient content of each plant and how they can help to address specific nutrition issues.
Poshan Vatika is the result of the collective actions by the Union ministries of Ayush and environment as well as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act, Poshan Panchayats and mothers’ groups.
Diet and nutrition have also been explained in great detail in the Ayush systems and so, the Ayush ministry has a vital role to play in advancing the Poshan Vatika programme. They will do so by collaborating with anganwadis as well as by choosing the most nutritious and herbal plants such as moringa, guava, banana and tulsi to be planted.
Some of the salient features of the Poshan Vatika program are:
- Mobilisation of individuals through a benchmark nutrition survey to understand both the malnourished people and the availability of nutritious edibles in the villages
- Selection and training of youth on nutrition and horticultural practices
- Preparation and widespread dissemination of user-friendly literature explaining various aspects of nutrition and other properties
- Procurement, production, processing and storage of seeds and planting materials of the selected species and varieties
- On-farm level training to farmers on seed preparation to harvest and storage of the neglected and underutilised food plants
With very little time interval between harvest and consumption, families can enjoy the benefits of the best quality of produce straight from their Poshan Vatika. Already, anganwadi workers across the country have given hundreds of thousands of saplings to women, who now nourish them in the hope that soon, the fruits of their labour will be enjoyed by their young children, who will grow up to be healthy young adults.
These women are equipped with all the information needed to build their own Poshan Vatika from the shape of the garden, how to grow and harvest the plants, vegetables and fruits, to recommendations on medicinal crops.
The nutri-garden offers fresh and chemical-free fruits and vegetables and serves the dual purpose of reducing external dependency. At the same time, in keeping with the Prime Minister’s clarion call for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, they make communities self-reliant when it comes to their own nutritional security.
Investing in nutrition is a fast and smart strategy to drive development, address poverty, and protect human rights.
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.
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