Tribal communities are amongst the most undernourished and suffer a chronic hunger that has hampered their mental and physical development for ages. Their forced transit from forest dwelling to semi-settled and settled agriculture has led to a loss of much of their sources of vital nutrition, including animal and vegetable proteins, essential vitamins etc. This has lead to a long term protein-calorie malnutrition affecting subsequent generations extensively and increasingly. A shocking level of chronic and complex under-nutrition affects children in the tribal regions. This under-nutrition begins with chronic hunger, wherein children are not even able to access adequate calories. This is further aggravated by protein and vitamin deficiencies over years. By the time the individuals reach 7 to 8 years of age, they face permanent stunting and poor resistance levels that subjects them to infectious as well as physiological diseases, affecting their working and learning levels. It is a matter of great concern that in tribal villages, the younger generations are visibly shorter and frailer than their older generations.
Youth to show the way: A gradual socio-economic change is also coming into the region, as increasing number of youth are getting formal education and are on the threshold of change. The question is will their new found aspirations be crushed by the only option of stifling manual labour in far away states or is there an option of improving the quality of life in their villages, and facilitating a future generation who can have a more enabling environment?
Each tribal village has a good amount of land much of which is disused and wasted due to erosion, and poor management. If farmers could be taught better land use methods, and rejuvenating traditional crops will help increase income as well as nutrition levels as tribal have a wide range of lentils and pulses with high nutrition value. In addition, millet crops which are a traditional staple are also found to have very good levels of essential micro-nutrients and minerals that will help in growth and nurture of children. If youth could be educated in organic and sustainable cultivation, combining traditional knowledge systems with present day developments in agro-ecology, then a good number of them would be encouraged to return to farming, rather than going for unskilled manual labour in far off lands.
Agragamee’s experience shows that young people are eager to improve their production systems and are looking for options and opportunities for having better output from their land. This aspiration has been capitalized by Agragamee to enable tribal families develop sustainable family farms that have helped them treble their income in three to four years. The family farm design developed in consultation with local as well as state level experts has helped farmers combine local as well as exotic plants and crops and integrate perennial, annual, food and income generating crops with goatery and poultry to provide a holistic livelihood support for each family. Even more importantly, tribal families have learnt and developed several ideas for intensive and improved land use which they are taking forward to other lands, as well as other farmers. Thus increasing land degradation has been successfully reversed to increasing land reclamation, leading to extensive areas being brought under eco-friendly cultivation practices, and leading to an upward spiral of ecological development.
Nutrition Leaders will be trained and capacitated to take this effort forward with the focus being on improving the overall nutritional level of children, including calories, protein, minerals and vitamins. The training will be through a combination of class-room sessions, combined with hands-on practices to enable a deeper understanding of the processes. In addition, training will include discussion, and exposure to fields of successful farmers. Youth with a minimum level of middle-school pass will be selected and will be enabled to understand the value of different foods, and their role in ensuring child health. Nutrition leaders will be youth farmers who will lead the change of land use, and production in their families and villages. They will show the way through practice and demonstration that will encourage fellow farmers to take up similar efforts. The effort as mentioned earlier will focus on but not be limited to improving nutrition levels of pre-adolescent children.
It is envisaged that once a critical mass of nutrition leaders is reached, the effort will multiply on its own, spreading from village to village, leading to an overall upward spiral of well-being, improved quality of life, and eco-system rejuvenation that will enable a denuded tribal region to regain its eco-system balance.