For a smallholder farmer like Dukhi Ram, addressing malnutrition has been a long-standing battle. He belongs to the Santhal tribe of Jharkhand, one of the most marginalised tribes in the region. Low income, lack of education and access to government entitlements have pushed them towards serious depth of malnutrition.
Dukhi Ram until last year owned less than half an acre of land and had to support a family of seven. His earning was completely dependent on a single crop round the year. When Pravah initiated a census screening in the area in April 2019, 1028 children aged between 6-59months, including Dukhi Ram’s two children, were found to be malnourished. In order to bring about a long-term solution to address malnutrition efforts were undertaken at individual, household and village levels.
Welthungerhilfe with its partner PRAVAH is empowering individuals like Dukhi Ram and helping them access government policies and programmes under its POSHANN initiative. Families with malnourished children are given a 15-day nutrition camp where mothers were taught about dietary diversity, local recipes and correct feeding and hygiene practices. The families were also supported with household level mapping for food availability, crop diversity, hunger period, and scope of linkages with government programmes under the Nutrition Sensitive Micro Planning (NSMP) initiatives.
Need for convergence
Besides the locals, Jharkhand is also one of the states with highest number of migrants due to lack of adequate infrastructure for agriculture and other job opportunities. As per reports, during COVID-19, more than 9,00,000 migrants returned to the state in the wake of job loss in urban areas. A skill mapping study by the Rural Development Department shows that out of 3,01,987 migrants mapped, most of the returned migrants have shown interest in areas of livelihoods like agriculture (109548), livestock (40883), micro-enterprises (38808).
Therefore, the need for convergence for securing livelihoods of the communities and rejuvenating natural resources like water, land and forest for a better nutrition outcome becomes vital.
Connecting communities with government schemes and entitlements
Under this initiative, all households with malnourished children are linked to the various government services including Individual Benefit Schemes under MGNREGA which is the single largest government employment guarantee programme in India. Based on the NSMP planning undertaken by PRAVAH jointly with the community, a village development plan demanding for construction of household level ponds for 10 famers with malnourished children including Dukhi Ram was submitted to the local government for approval in May 2019. In March 2020, Dukhi Ram and the other famers received sanction for construction of their ponds. Each pond was a size of 60 ft X 60 ft with a budget of INR 60,000 under the individual benefit schemes.
During regular interaction between PRAVAH and the locals, the team explored convergence opportunities with other government department to maximise the use of the ponds, which in turn can help increase the nutritional status of the family. The team contacted the District Fishery Department to support the farmers with trainings so that they could start fishery as an additional source of income and increase their food intake. The District Fishery Officer visited the area and explained the farmers various facets of fishery from fish farming, spawn, table fish to marketing.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, livelihoods and market access was severely impacted. Therefore, during this time, the department on request from Pravah conducted an orientation meeting on fish cultivation with interested farmers by maintaining social distancing. 10 model farmers came forward from six villages of Sonaraithari block namely – Harikura, Debnathdih, Jalhara, Modidih, Pokharia and Bagbutia. Fishery has not increased household income but also fulfills the nutritional requirement of the families and community.
The Fishery department supplied free of cost spawn which was worth INR225 per packet. Each packet contains 50,000 spawn. To keep the motivation high, the community also contributed 10% of the cost which is INR22. All together 10 farmers received 15,00, 000 spawn for their pond. Three types of fish spawn were used in the ponds – Rohu (30%), Katla (50%) and Mirgle (20%). And it is estimated that following this the farmers in total will receive atleast 25 to 30 quintals of fish worth INR500,000 within 60-70 days. Each of the farmer has also an insurance cover of INR2,00,000 from the Fishery Department. In case of loss they will get the recovery from the government.
Under the project, the farmers are also being trained on how to prepare natural feed for fish, feeding time, interval, etc.
Towards a sustainable future
“It was beyond my capacity to buy fish regularly for our children. Although my daughter loves fish, meat, egg I could never buy it. And I was told that my children are malnourished, as a parent I felt disappointed. I am grateful that Pravah team guided me on how to grow our own nutrition garden for our daily consumption of vegetables. And my fishpond is particularly helpful as my children can now eat fish more frequently”, says Anita Marandi, 32-year old wife of Dukhi Ram Murmu. Fish is a very food source of animal protein. Farmers are also convinced to first cater to the requirement of their own village at a subsidized rate who are unable to afford to buy fish from outside.
With success of this pilot, PRAVAH jointly with Fishery Department will now organise farmers into a Fish Farmers Group and certify them. In a crisis like COVID 19 pandemic, MGNREGA plays a pivotal role in providing not only wage employment but also creates large-scale assets in rural India, which can improve agricultural and non-agricultural productivity and ensure a secured livelihood. Therefore, a good convergence can bring about long-term changes in people’s lives, especially on improving food and nutrition security of the family.
It is also worth mentioning that in the post COVID 19, Government of Jharkhand is going to implement kitchen gardens with 500,000 families to support smallholder farmers enrich their daily diet under MGNREGA. These nutrition-gardens are for individual families for round the year availability of vegetables for dietary diversity. Thus, the flagship programme of MGNREGS is a widespread programme that can embrace many such convergence and improve life and livelihood of people. Welthungerhilfe strongly believes that food and nutrition security in the region can only occur through a combination of targeted ‘nutrition-specific’ interventions and wider ‘nutrition-sensitive’ development interventions, backed up by enabling policy, political and institutional environments and processes.