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Identifying the Gaps in Diet of Rural Marginalized Communities of Chhatisgarh

Identifying the Gaps in Diet of Rural Marginalized Communities of Chhatisgarh

A. Introduction:

Chhattisgarh is a tribal dominated and highly forested state located in the central part of the country. Although, the state is rich in natural resources, the rural communities suffer from signs of deprivation. The NFHS 5 (2019-21) data of Chhattisgarh indicates that on an average 35.7% children under 5 years are stunted, 18.9% children are wasted and 31.3% children are underweight. Similarly, 25.3% of rural women have a low body mass index and 62.2% are Anaemic.

In August 2023, PCI forged an agreement with the Department of Agriculture of Chhattisgarh state to provide technical support for Social Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) for nutrition to the Chhatisgarh Inclusive Rural and Accelerated Agriculture Growth project (CHIRAAG). CHIRAAG is being implemented in 1100 villages of 25 blocks in 14 northern and southern, poorest districts of the state. As Technical Support Assistance unit (TSA) for SBCC for nutrition, the overarching aim of PCI is to achieve a diverse food plate in every household, for every family member, with special focus on pregnant and lactating women, children and adolescents.

The CHIRAAG project uses multiple arms to improve income and diet of rural farming communities. With support of TSA, the project will improve awareness on nutrition-rich foods, provide the farmers knowhow and means to grow nutrition-dense foods and provide market linkages to ensure profitability and raise their monthly income. Special attention will be paid to use agricultural techniques that conserve natural resources. The uniqueness of the CHIRAAG project lies in the fact that it aims to achieve nutrition related outcomes through better agriculture practices, an approach that has not commonly been used on a large scale in the country.

B. Background research to identify the problem:

During the months of Oct-Dec 2023, PCI teams undertook thorough research to learn what the gaps in the diet of these communities are. Secondary research findings were triangulated with a primary research done by the PCI field team. The primary research focused on gauging the current landscape with regards to food related practices and behaviours (household meal and diet diversity patterns, with special attention to pregnant and lactating women and children below 2 years of age), availability and consumption of traditional foods/recipes, myths /taboos etc. The ground teams conducted individual questionnaire-based interviews with 1106 household members in 140 villages of 12 blocks of southern Chhatisgarh, and held rounds of focus group discussions in each block. We documented the frequency of meals, the number of food groups consumed daily, types of food items being consumed, prevalence of indigenous foods for consumption, myths and misconceptions related to food and market availability of food products.

C. Findings:

Between 80-100% of the farming families were of scheduled caste or scheduled tribe communities. The families sourced their food items from several sources.

Food sources

Food is self-grown in farms and homestead gardens, procured from the weekly market, hunting, forest produce and fishing, in this order of frequency. The uptake of government rations from Public Distribution System (PDS) and Take-Home Rations (THR) is very high. A large variety of home-grown and market purchased indigenous vegetables are available. Most households own a homestead garden, but only 55% cultivate it, and only in the rainy season. More than half (60%) of those who cultivate it, grow vegetables but mention that vegetables grown at home are not sufficient to meet the weekly demand. The rest grow cereals, while only 10-12% grow fruits. Cows/buffalo, hen and goats are the major livestock kept by more than half the community. More than a third of families collect Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) – Mahua flowers, tendu leaves and tamarind being the majority NTFP. About 2% homes practice fishing.

Common/indigenous foods of Chhattisgarh

Most households procure cereals and pulses from the market or PDS, vegetables from homestead gardens or the market while fruits when consumed are procured from the market.

Food consumption pattern

Nearly all families consume rice as the main cereal. Pulses are consumed on a daily basis by more than two-third of the families. Families universally consume tubers and other vegetables while 60-70% consume green leafy vegetables regularly. Between 10-15% families consumed nuts and seeds and a similar proportion consume meat, fish or poultry. The consumption of eggs is very low, at 4-5% and consumption of milk and milk products and fruits is negligible. As expected, marginal and landless farming households are found to consume 3-4 food groups daily compared to middle and large farming families who consume 4-5 food groups per day. NTFP like Mahua flowers, tamarind and tendu fruits are eaten at home and also sold in the market. Pregnant and lactating women consume 2-3 meals a day, comprising three food groups – cereals, pulses and vegetables. Children below 2 years of age are provided 2-3 meals a day with 2-3 food groups, usually a gruel made of cereals and pulses. It is expected that children of this age consume 5 small meals with at least 4 out of 7 food groups.

Analysis of the food consumption pattern

The unsatisfactory pattern of food item and number of meals consumed by women and children of marginal farmers and landless homes provides an indication to the reason for wide-spread malnourishment among women and children. Overall, there was complete absence of knowledge about diet diversity and balanced diet among the respondents. Pregnant women are consuming less than half the number of the recommended three meals and two snacks a day. The meals lack protein-rich foods such as eggs, milk, meat, or micronutrient rich foods like nuts and seeds, fruits and fish. Similarly, children below two years of age are given inadequate number of food groups in fewer than half the recommended number of meals.

Gender and food consumption pattern

In all homes, women cooked the meals. None of the men were involved in cooking the meals. Among one-third of the households, men ate first, followed by other members of the family. In one-fourth households, the aged ate first, while among one-fifth of the households the entire family including the women ate together.

Common food-related myths and taboos

Several food-related myths and taboos exist that can potentially hinder consumption of a balanced, adequate diet, especially by pregnant women. Some examples are – eating bitter gourd and coral vegetable together becomes poisonous, consumption of colocasia vegetable by lactating mother causes cough to the child, if a lactating mother consumes chutney (tomato, green chill, coriander), the child gets diarrhea etc.

D. Next steps:

Led by these learnings, the PCI team is delving deeper into the differential food patterns in blocks and the SC and ST communities. We will investigate into the socio-cultural reasons for non-consumption of protein rich items like egg, meat, milk, and fish. The team will also discern how food-related myths and taboos affect the diet of women and children.
With these multi-layered insights, we will design an overarching SBCC strategy targeted at improving awareness of each member of the household on diverse diet, need of taking the recommended food groups and frequency of meals per day. The nuances of each differential will be built into the strategy to ensure that it is region-and context specific. While we educate the whole family, the need of pregnant women and small children to have additional meals will be highlighted. Importance of partaking vitamin A rich fruits and vegetables will be stressed. Farmers will be taught to make homestead gardens functional the whole year through so that adequate seasonal fruits and vegetables can be grown and consumed by the family. Food preservation techniques will be taught, so that nutrient-dense foods such as mushroom, fruits, NTFP can be preserved to be consumed off season as well.

CHIRAAG project is being implemented by the Government of Chhatisgarh with a loan from the World Bank and IFAD.

Authors: Amrita Misra, Monika Chauhan, Bindu Khera, Jagjit Minj, Deepak Kumar

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