New Delhi: “Nutrition is important for children and mothers. We know this from what we see in our homes and villages. This is needed today and now,” said Vandana Devi, President Jagriti Mahila Prerna Laghu Udyog. A small state-run community center nestled in the rural countryside of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 40 percent of India’s malnourished children, has been buoyed with a lot of energy and optimism lately because of women’s support groups in nearby villages.
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Wearing blue dungarees or dresses with traditional saris, the micro-enterprise’s women show a clear purpose and purpose as they go about their work in the unit, which produces nutritious, age-appropriate products for young children, pregnant women and nursing teenage girls.
The unit is led by women from the surrounding villages and the products are delivered. Because we are related to each other, the quality and value of our products are valued by everyone, she added, adding the use of filtered water and other measures taken to maintain hygiene standards.
Vandana Devi, mother of three, explained the localization that combines nutritional services and empowerment, saying:
For the women here, unity and coming together has brought about changes in family and personal life. We are recruiting members, doing business and the community is now more aware of the importance of nutrition.
Ms Devi is the president of the micro-enterprise that runs the manufacturing unit in Gauspur village in Fatehpur district, some 84 miles from the state capital of Lucknow.
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The first 1000 days
The first 1,000 days of life—roughly the time between conception and a child’s second birthday—is a special time of opportunity, during which the foundations for optimal health, growth, and neurological development are laid. In India, this time is effectively covered by the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program through the take-away rations.
The women who work in this unit rightly recognize that the take-home rations they produce, if nutritious, can play an important role in preventing child malnutrition. Therefore, the product they make consists of high quality protein in the form of skim milk powder, fat through the addition of oils and vitamins and minerals, says Dr. Shariqua Yunus, who leads the World Food Program (WFP) nutritional portfolio in India, drove them.
India has made great strides in food production over the years, achieving self-sufficiency, initiating promising resilient and sustainable livelihood models and integrated through the food safety net. However, the prevalence of malnutrition at the country level remains high. 35.5 percent of children under the age of 5 are short for their age); 19.3 percent is wasted (low weight for height) and 32.1 percent is underweight, including a high prevalence of anemia and micronutrient deficiency disorders. While indicators of malnutrition have shown a decrease between the two rounds of the National Family Health Survey 4 (2015-16) and NFHS-5 (2019-21), the prevalence of anemia and obesity or overweight has increased across all age groups.
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Localization and Empowerment
Madhu Devi, then the newest member of the unit, said:
Working in the unit has changed the way my family sees me. You now see me as a working woman. What makes me happy is that my work will help children and mothers.
She wore a smile that rarely left her face, even as she pushes carts filled with grain to the processing unit.
Involving women from the community to run the take-home ration production units is a unique gender-biased initiative that not only provides livelihood opportunities for local women, but also empowers them economically. It is encouraging to see the benefits of the initiative among women just a few months after its launch.
Aradhana Srivastav, WFP’s Gender Lead in India, who has worked closely on the empowerment component of the nutrition-driven initiative, said:
Women see their work and income as great achievements. The fact that they have to deal with people and issues outside the confines of their home independently and without the interference of their family has boosted their confidence and given them a sense of power. The money they bring with them has also enhanced their status within the family and community, which has increased their participation in decision-making at both levels. All of this is new and empowering, and women are already reveling in it.
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An idea whose time has come
In July last year, Vandana Devi was one of the women who interacted via video conference with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as he provided government investment to the production unit as a sign of the state’s commitment to the project.
The night before I was nervous because I was representing all the women who work in the food production unit. But was ready and happy that we got money from the government. Everyone is taking it seriously now, added Vandana Devi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for 202 decentralized take-home rations (THR) production units in 43 districts of Uttar Pradesh on December 21.
The production unit is part of a partnership between the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and the Government of Uttar Pradesh. The pilot of the production units has become a harbinger of a major policy change as these are scaled up from two districts to the entire state, with the Indian Prime Minister recently announcing over 200 units.
As part of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the Anganwadi Centers play a vital role in supporting households, especially those from low-income families, by providing childcare, health and nutrition, education, complementary nutrition, immunizations, health checks, etc remittance services.
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(Parvinder Singh is Head of Communications at the United Nations World Food Program in India. Parvinder holds a research degree in Indian Economic History from JNU, with a PhD fellowship from ICSSR and qualifications in Public Policy.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
NDTV – Dettol has been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 through the Banega Swachh India initiative, led by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The aim of the campaign is to highlight the interdependence of humans and the environment and between people, with a focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It emphasizes the need to care for and consider the health of everyone in India – particularly vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, Indigenous people, India’s diverse tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, Gender and Sexual Minorities. In the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as washing hands is one of the ways to prevent coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness, focusing on the importance of nutrition and health care for women and children, tackling malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, youth health and gender awareness. In addition to people’s health, the campaign recognized the need to also take care of ecosystem health. Our environment is vulnerable due to human activities that not only overexploit the available resources but also cause immense pollution as a result of the use and extraction of these resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss, which has caused one of the greatest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as “Code Red for Humanity”. The campaign will continue to address issues such as air pollution, waste disposal, plastic ban, manual cleaning and hygiene, and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also carry on the dream of Swasth Bharat. The campaign envisions only a Swachh, or clean India, where toilet use and Open Defecation Free (ODF) status will be achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Diseases such as diahorrea can be eradicated and the country can become a swasth or sane India.