Embracing local cultures to promote nutrition messages

In the Odiya language, Anna means rice and Prasana means to eat, and Annaprasana is a ceremony that is performed when a child attains 6 months of age with much fanfare in most parts of Odisha as well many other parts of India.

It is understood in these communities that as the child grows, the mother’s milk alone cannot meet the energy needs of the child. The diet needs to be supplemented with additional energy-dense food. Thus, the child is introduced to complementary foods like rice porridge, chhatua, pulses and vegetables in small quantities, which is increased gradually as the child grows and weaned away from breastfeeding.

Digital Green’s project Samvad has partnered with a strong grassroots organization, Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), in Odisha to engage with the community through its range of digital engagement platforms that enable beneficiaries and influencers to interact and learn about best practices related to maternal child health nutrition (MCHN) and family planning.

We found that community members of most of the tribal villages of Thakurmunda block, Mayurbhanj District in Odisha were unaware of the various stages of infant and young child feeding practices and its importance for the child’s growth. The concept of Annaprasana was also absent.

Several videos were made and disseminated in these villages in self-help groups (SHGs) and on Village Health and Nutrition Days (VHNDs) to generate awareness and ensure the community embrace the healthy behaviors under MCHN and family planning themes.

The Samvad project is particularly concerned about addressing social taboos and embracing social practices that can enable and maximize social behavior change through its videos. We observed that as a result of videos that showcased the importance of introducing complementary feeding through a social ceremony such as Annaprasana, the community quickly embraced the ceremony.

The community now understands the importance of initiating complementary feeding at 6 months and in over 27 villages of Thakurmunda block, Annaprasana ceremonies are now a regular occurrence celebrated with great joy. When the child is given the semi-solid food for the first time, mantras are recited and prayers are offered to various deities to mark it as an auspicious occasion to be celebrated. The practice has become so popular that the community members are even celebrating it on the VHND day as a festival.

Tech Solutions for Smallholder Farmers in Bangladesh’s Jessore district

While Bangladesh has witnessed some recent success in improving food security in Bangladesh, such as tripling its rice production, some challenges remain. A key challenge is that of connecting smallholder farmers to markets so that they can realise the best prices possible for their produce.

There are of course many factors that contribute to an uncoordinated market system which makes it unprofitable for smallholder farmers. Poor road networks, high transportation costs, a proliferation of actors, lack of capital and collective bargaining power to negotiate prices make it difficult for smallholder farmers to venture into markets outside of their community in hope of better prices for their produce. These challenges also discourage youth to enter farming as it’s not viewed as a profitable occupation.

So we wondered if we can break this status quo and tweak the market system in such a way that it is fair for smallholder farmers?

For the last two years, Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project implemented by Digital Green, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services and Care International has been trying to find a solution to this challenge by piloting Digital Green’s access-to-market model in Bangladesh. In this model, a market entrepreneur is selected in each village in consultation with the community. Usually, a young farmer, this entrepreneur (aggregator) provides ‘door-to-door’ service of transporting the fresh produce from farm to market for a nominal fee.

When farmers in the community want to take their produce to the market they call the aggregator, who comes and picks-up the produce, sells it at the market on their behalf and gives the money back to the farmers the same day.

Farmers save time and cost of transportation – especially if they are vegetable growers and need to go to the market approximately every four days. By optimising transport based on the volume of produce, the aggregator too is able to control cost and gets better market prices with stronger negotiation power for bulk selling.

The model leverages digital technology to ensure transparency, efficiency and trust between the aggregator and farmer. When the aggregator collects the produce from farms, they use digital weighing machines to measure the quantity collected by each farmer. They also use separate sacks for each farmer to ensure those farmers with higher quality produce get better prices. After selling the produce, they log each transaction in the mobile app which generates an SMS receipt for each farmer. The farmer can also call the buyer and verify the price in the receipt. A mobile helpline for farmers that is channelled to a Digital Green field staff also assists with troubleshooting.

The traditional market system in Bangladesh is not gender inclusive. However, with trusted relationships with the aggregators, women heads of household were also able to get reliable access to markets and better prices for their produce and this encouraged more women farmers to cultivate home-stead gardening.

From April 2017, through this service, we have transported approx. 2.6 million kg of vegetables and ensured $1 million in payments. We have about 2,300 active farmers using the service and each farmer saves 3-5 hours of their time each week and we have seen an indication of 12-15% income increase through this service. These numbers are driven by the highly motivated, young entrepreneurs who take pride in the hard work of vegetable aggregation and transportation from dawn till dusk.

Due to the trust and respect aggregators built within their communities, DLEC was able to link them with Care Krishi Utsho, an enterprise of Care Bangladesh, to provide quality organic inputs to farmers. This partnership resulted in the aggregators gaining access to an added income source as mobile sales-agents of Krishi Utsho selling quality inputs to smallholder farmers. The aggregators also become a focal point for public sector extension agents, linking them up with smallholder farmers to provide demand-driven, timely and relevant advisory.

The success of DLEC’s market access engagement catalyzed additional interest and funding from The Government of the Netherlands to expand the program to additional geography within Bangladesh as part of the Profitable Opportunities for Food Security project implemented by ICCO Cooperation. SNV Netherlands Development Organization leveraged the DLEC aggregators to share weather advisory, plant & growth tips and pest outbreak alerts via their Fosholi app. And the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London is investing resources to study how to integrate nutrition, gender and climate resilience into the aggregator-led market access model.

Combating Malnutrition Through Agri-Nutrition Gardens

In spite of the steady decline observed in maternal, infant and child mortality, much work remains to be done to tackle undernutrition among women of child-bearing age, adolescents and children under 5 years.

National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) cites that in Jharkhand, 70% of children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, and 65% of women ages 15-49 years are anaemic. These high rates of anaemia are attributable to the low iron content in women’s diets from early childhood into adulthood, which has consequences for children’s physical growth, mental development and performance in school. The NFHS-4 further notes that nearly half (45%) of children under age 5 in Jharkhand are stunted and 29% are wasted.

Undernutrition in rural communities can be traced to a dearth of information about nutrition, as well as the unaffordability of nutritious food. The introduction of mono-cropping and the shift in agriculture to a market-driven economy brought in with the Green Revolution in the 1960s in India, drastically reduced crop diversity. With cash crops taking precedence, households shifted from producing a range of cereals, pulses and vegetables themselves, to purchasing them from the market. Although vegetables help combat malnutrition by providing essential vitamins and minerals essential for children’s development and overall good health, India’s present vegetable production level permits a per capita consumption of only 120g per day, against the recommended daily intake 300g.

Background

In Jharkhand, Digital Green is working with Mahila Kisan Sashktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP) and the state Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) on an integrated approach to address the immediate determinants of undernutrition, particularly consumption of adequate food and nutrition. The work is part of the Samvad  project funded by the US Agency for International Development, which is working with state Rural Livelihood Missions, state-level agencies of the National Health Mission, and multiple non-governmental organizations to employ video- and other ICT-enabled approaches to increase adoption of optimal maternal, infant and child health and nutrition and family planning practices in Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand.

Through community videos they watch and discuss together, facilitated by the frontline workers (FLWs) trained through Samvad, the women farmers learn about health and nutrition practices, initially focusing on the first 1000 days (which start at the identification of pregnancy and last until the child is 2 years old) for both mother and child. The videos focus on dietary diversity during pregnancy, exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding, and so on. Once the groups understand health and nutritional requirements for healthy development, the FLWs guide them in discussions on options for bridging dietary diversity gaps, including backyard agriculture or kitchen gardens. MKSP and JSLPS are successfully promoting agri-nutrition gardens as a year-round source of fruits and vegetables.

I never thought of maintaining this kind of garden. Now I am harvesting fresh vegetables daily, by just collecting and using the household wastewater.

The Agri-nutrition Garden

After discussions with stakeholders on field conditions and land and water availability, Digital Green developed a model for an agri-nutrition garden, which details the size (about 50 square meters), layout, and options for maintaining a  diverse selection of vegetables and fruits by season. The garden boundary and rooftop can be used for climbing plants. The model advocates organic, non-pesticide management practices and compost production. Households use a Jalkund, a pit lined with a polyethene sheet to store household wastewater for irrigation. Establishment of community nurseries ensures timely availability of saplings.

During the last kharif and rabi seasons (2018-19), more than 12,000 community members planted agri-nutrition gardens in Jharkhand. Almost every garden developed during Kharif season was continued through the next (Rabi) cropping season, showing their importance to the women who plant them.

Many women farmers from the Tilaiya village mentioned that maintaining the small gardens, which they call a ‘poshan bagicha’ or nutri-garden, allows them to diversify their families’ daily diets to an extent not possible when they had to purchase vegetables from the market. In addition to this, they are also saving the money they used to spend purchasing vegetables (an average of Rs. 200-300 weekly).

I developed my nutrition garden during Kharif with 8 different kinds of vegetables and continued it in the rabi season by incorporating season specific vegetables. I have used organic manures only and maintained the garden using wastewater from the household. I consume the vegetables and also share the surplus with neighbours who don’t have enough.

Community Level Convergence

While interacting with community members in the Tilaiya village of Ramgarh, I realized that the extent of adoption of the practice of growing and tending agri-nutrition gardens, and the communities’ ownership of them, is attributable to the informal convergence in the villages of frontline workers from different domains and departments. MKSP FLWs, known as Community Resource Person or Aajeevika Krishak Mitra, screen the health and nutrition videos and talk about dietary diversity and other issues using platforms such as Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) and Village Health and Nutrition Days, where Anganwadi workers and/or Sahiya are present to discuss the issue with further clarity and details.

Anganwadi Centres have planted model agri-nutrition gardens (either at the centre or nearby) so that women can visualise how a small garden in their backyards could meet their families’ year-round dietary requirements for fresh fruits and vegetables. FLWs from the National Health Mission, the Department of Women and Child Development and NRLM share this common Anganwadi Centre platform for meeting and discussing household health and nutrition issues, and how to meet nutrition needs by developing a small agri-nutrition garden.

Empowerment of Women

This intervention has empowered women socially as well as economically. Each month, they save up to Rs. 1,000-1,200 by growing their own vegetables,  which they use for household needs that were previously difficult to meet. They also share or exchange the surplus vegetables from their gardens with needy community members and neighbouring farmers.

 

This concept even received an award in the state – see our Facebook update here!