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Opinion: Atmanirbhar Poshan – Making India A Nutrition Superpower

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the importance of growing food locally in order to address malnutrition and hunger and to make people self-reliant, says Basanta Kumar Kar, recipient of the Global Nutrition Leadership Award

Opinion: Atmanirbhar Poshan - Making India A Nutrition Superpower

New Delhi: I remember, when I was a child, food and nutrition used to be about the ‘local’, ingrained in the ecosystem of the place. People were largely dependent on the ecology and, the bounty of nature worked in tandem to build a local food system offering the nutrition needed for all seasons. Along with it came the organically built system of strengthening people’s and local fauna’s immunity and naturally mitigating the protein and calorie hunger. Food was not just diet; it was also a medicine; it was always treated as sacred. This ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the forgotten glory of depending on the locally produced foods. Humanity seems to have recognised that there is a need for a new world order; the order that respects the local food system and nutritional self-reliance that can meet the nutrition needs to address impaired immunity and revitalise the local economy. The experts and policymakers have also realised that the hardest hit population due to this pandemic is of women, children and people with underlying conditions like hypertension, heart diseases, kidney issues, diabetes among others which are mainly caused by faulty dietary habits and lack of nutrition. Therefore, now it is the need of the hour that we go back to our most healthy and secured food production and eating habit by promoting Atmanirbhar POSHAN (Nutritional Self Reliance).

Also Read: Anaemia Continues To Rise Among Women Of Childbearing Age And Children In The Country, Shows Fifth National Family Health Survey

After successfully rolling out the POSHAN Abhiyaan shaped by the determinations of the Prime Minister, India is rightfully positioned to demonstrate its leadership on nutrition and emerge as a nutrition superpower. In line with Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India), the Atmanirbhar Poshan (Nutritional Self Reliance) can enable leadership on nutrition and remove India’s tag on being home to one-third of stunted children and the highest number of wasted children in the world. It can empower the present and future generation and provide nutrition justice in the first 1000 days of life of children which is the most crucial window of time as it makes the foundation of a child’s health and development.

Like poverty, malnutrition is also somewhat a political process. This is because it is caused due to the high level of exclusions, injustice and unfocused governance. The Atmanirbhar Poshan or Nutritional Self Reliance with its strong foundation on inclusiveness, accountability, country’s models, pride and culture is the right fit to address global nutrition landscape, calorie, protein, micronutrient inadequacy and malnutrition in all its forms. To emerge as a leader of nutrition in the world, India must demonstrate the commitment to values of its own food and nutrition system.

Nutritional Self Reliance- A strategic And Practical Need

Achieving nutritional self-reliance for each country is not only a strategic need but a practical need too. India’s climate and geological challenges call for nutritional self-reliance. It is necessary to stop food and nutrition disruption at the local level and improve sustained availability, accessibility and consumption of safe and nutritious diets at the household level. A basic premise for India to ever reach a malnutrition-free status requires an infection-free India first. Considering the current scenario in India and the world where the invisible virus does not recognise geographies and borders, the acute respiratory illnesses, caused by pathogenic microorganisms can severely compromise the progress made in defeating malnutrition in India. Morbidity arising from infectious diseases hampers subsistence living of the rural poor, who depend on micro small medium enterprises (MSME) to earn livelihoods.

Nutritional Self-Reliance- A Sustainable Agenda

It is necessary to find a distinction between self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Nutritional self-reliance allows local food system to be inclusive, caring, accountable and self-sufficient to feed minimum food groups and other food and pharma logistics required to meet the food and nutrition need for a healthy living and sustainable planet. Through a micro-level planning, the local authorities and smallholder farmers are well skilled to promote nutrition-sensitive eco-system that brings changes at the household level. It recognises the ‘Right to Nutrition’ that is inherent in ‘Right to Life’ which is necessary to survive and thrive and live a life with dignity. It lays emphasis on the community’s best judgement that is supreme on production, diversification of its food system and trade of surplus commodities. Nutritional self-reliance emphasises fair nutrition outcomes, just and equitable governance, self-rule and autonomy, while self-sufficiency emphasises economic independence and availability of products and commodities.

Essential Nutrition Actions

Nutritional self-reliance would aim at addressing malnutrition in all forms with prioritised actions on first one thousand days of life and would address calorie inadequacy, protein and hidden hunger. It would aim at caring, inclusive and accountable local food system to include poultry, fishery, animal husbandry, other naturally bio-fortified crops like roots and tubers naturally grown for balanced and safe diets in all seasons.

Also Read: Opinion: Say No To Junks – Healthy Lifestyle And Healthy Eating

Key Pillars OF Nutritional Self Reliance

Setting A Target -Bringing Down Malnutrition To A Single Digit Status By 2040

India needs to revisit the current strategy and program delivery framework and multiply its efforts to reduce undernutrition four or five times the current rate. For example, the Annual Average Rate of Reduction (AARR) of stunting between National Family and Health Survey (NFHS)-III and IV now stands at 2.2 per cent. However, the AARR required to reach single-digit values (9.3 per cent) by 2040 is 5.50 per cent. In a 10 year period (between NFHS-III and IV), the wasting has gone up showing negative growth. The AARR for wasting is -0.6 per cent, which needs to be scaled up to 3 per cent by 2040 to reach 9.8 per cent. The AARR of anaemia among women in the age of 15-49 years is 0.4 per cent. This needs to be raised to 6.50 per cent per annum to reach a target of 9.9 per cent by 2040. There is an urgent need to accelerate and compound all the efforts we are putting in, to achieve the desired results.

Respect And Scale Up India’s Gold Mines Of Nutrition Models

Indian states have demonstrated exemplar nutrition models. For example, the states like Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Mizoram, Gujarat, Odisha, Delhi and Assam have shown exemplary results in reducing stunting. Although the wasting has gone up at the national level but states like Meghalaya, Mizoram, Bihar, Jharkhand and Kerala have shown success in reduction of wasting. States like Sikkim, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand have shown success in reduction of anaemia. Sikkim being an organic state demonstrated a record reduction of anaemia by 5.2 per cent per annum. India needs to take pride, respect and build on its gold mines of scalable nutrition models. India is rightfully positioned to host a Global Summit on Nutrition to share its evidences and islands of excellences and strategise its vision for suposhit Bharat.

District Level Nutritional Self Sufficiency

Almost 90 per cent children at their most critical age of 6-24 months do not receive an adequate diet that includes a minimum of four food groups. Pregnant women need diversified diets from a minimum of six food groups. In order to increase access to safe and nutritious diets, the local food system must be caring, inclusive and accountable and each district must be self-sufficient in minimum six food groups. These food groups are cereals and millets, pulses, milk and milk products, roots and tubers, green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, fruits, sugar, fat/ oil and meat, fish, and eggs. Investing in women smallholder farmer will be a key policy priority. The action research projects at the district level to demonstrate impacts like the reduction of stunting, wasting, anaemia, obesity and overweight will enhance India’s reservoir of nutrition models.

Restructuring Food MSMEs- Food Entrepreneurs To Nutrition Entrepreneurs

The local food businesses are critical for profitable nutrition because they are a primary food source for many malnourished low-income households. The existing food business entrepreneurs can transform themselves into nutrition entrepreneurs to increase access to safe and nutritious diets. Building a network of food MSMEs will be necessary to aggregate the knowledge and prevent Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Food MSMEs have a greater role to play on addressing India’s rising NCDs and double burden on malnutrition.

Also Read: Opinion: Fortification Of Food With Micronutrients: Building On The Success Of Universal Salt Iodization

Centre Of Excellence And Institutions Of Global Importance

The world is looking forward to India’s nutrition story and its new generation of institutional arrangements. India needs the evidence and breakthrough research(s) to multiply its initiatives to fight against malnutrition together. Socially responsible business leaders need to come forward to establish a Global Centre of excellence(s) that can aggregate knowledge and provide new generation of breakthrough research and evidences.

Data Self-Sufficiency And Self-Reliance

India needs to build capabilities for a self-reliant data that safeguards an individual’s privacy and the country’s sovereignty. The public-funded organisations need to take responsibility on data; research and management information system and any partnership on this area must pass the tests of public interest, public purpose and reasonableness.

A New Nutrition Legislation

The present National Food Security Act -2013 is grossly inadequate. India needs new national legislation on Food and Nutrition to address all forms of malnutrition and deal with, a) farmer’s security, b) sustainable food and nutrition security, c) food safety including management of food and nutrition value chain, and d) preserving biosafety and bio diversity. The want of just and equitable governance in food and nutrition can be fulfilled with the enactment of national legislation.

A Movement On Behaviour Change- JAN Andolan To JANANI Andolan

With my experience in the past, I envisage 2.5 million hamlet level women nutrition change leaders to be called as JANANIs (Joint Angan Nutrition Awareness for New India) across 6.5 lacs villages. These nutrition warriors can address multiple exclusions and usher a behaviour change revolution. The Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) is abysmally low and very critical during 6-24 months of the child. These JANANIs through quality home contacts will spread nutrition literacy and improve feeding behaviour. Woman power needs to take control by changing the narrative so that woman is seen as a woman and not merely as a mother. From a village approach to hamlet approach, nutrition can become a buzzword and household name.

Skilling human resource for ‘Good Nutrition’ is important. Around 3.5 million women public health and nutrition functionaries working at the grassroots possess the infinite potential to transform the health and nutrition landscape. These last mile functionaries need to be well capacitated and equipped with new technologies to provide doorstep nutrition literacy and catalyse Jan Andolan at the grassroots.

Recognise The Role Of Socially Responsible Business

Stakeholder and message alignment is necessary for a unified energy, shared understanding and purpose-driven agenda. The sector needs to recognise the values of all the stakeholders based on the foundations of public interest, public purpose and reasonableness. The less explored socially responsible business(s) have the power and potential to leverage resources on new technologies, innovations, breakthrough research, food value chain management and product safety. The collective power of grassroots civil society and local governments on social mobilisation and model building, inter-departmental convergence and complementary knowledge from the socially responsible businesses will be key enablers for the sector.

Also Read: Opinion: Childhood Obesity – One Of The Major Public Health Challenges Of The 21st Century

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

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