State Food Commissions – Filling the gap for a convergent action

State Food Commissions – Filling the gap for a convergent action

‘Convergence’ is one of the commonly used terminology in the social sector in connection with developmental activities. Everybody recognizes its importance and understands its relevance for strengthening most social development indicators. Many states including Odisha, have an exclusive Planning-cum-Convergence Department for coordinating & converging the efforts of different departments. However, there is hardly any effort for ensuring convergent action leading to nutritional security. Nutrition is a complex sector which needs determined effort of various stakeholders and many Government departments.

There has been some reduction in under-nutrition over the last few decades and the results have generated a lot of learning. The results have been encouraging in most states, but the achievements are way behind the targets set under MDG. In this age of globalization, rapid urbanization, wide and exhaustive reach of information and the national GDP staying above 6% on an annual basis, the reduction in under-nutrition has been in the range of 1-2% annually. In fact, the number of wasted children has increased during the last decade. Therefore, it is futile to expect that India will be benefiting by way of demographic dividends.

For reduction of under-nutrition, the need for convergence of efforts was felt long back. ICDS, the flagship Government scheme for eradicating under-nutrition, was started way back in 1975 on a project mode and half of the six services envisaged under it are related specifically to Health & Family Welfare Department. Several attempts have been made by leading development organizations like UNICEF and CARE for convergence at various levels for smooth implementation of various programmes related to nutrition. It is one of the crucial approach that has been practiced, demonstrated and its outcomes have been widely recommended by most development players.

Some of the best practices on convergence like Village Health and Nutrition Days (VHND), the position of ASHA and village level ‘village health nutrition and sanitation committee’ (VCHNC) have been institutionalized and have proved to be successful. All these actions and institutions are at the community level or at the level of frontline workers. The convergent actions needed to deal with issues like regular programme planning and review, streamlining the supplies, address the gaps and share the progress made by each player at all levels – Sector, Block, District and State have been conveniently sidelined.

Departments prefer to work in silos and want to limit their action to only those things in which they are good at or the things they are mainly expected to do. In the districts, the already over-burdened Collectors are supposed to ensure convergence in the field of nutrition. Convergence meeting at the state level is mostly need-based, takes a lot of efforts, has limited follow up and has to deal with a lot of resistance. Most States have not yet initiated ‘Nutrition Mission’ and its future appears to be more challenging. There seems little possibility of merging the efforts of ICDS with Health and Family Welfare Department or Human Resources Department. Other sporadic efforts like setting up of a ‘nutrition secretariat’ at the State level are still being experimented with the support of leading Development partners.

Amidst this scenario, the National Food Security Act, 2013 provides a lot of opportunity in bridging this gap and some of the States have already constituted the ‘State Food Commission’. The judgement dated 21.07.2017 of the Supreme Court expects the Union Government and the State Governments to notify appropriate rules for grievance redressal under the Act and also to appoint appropriate and independent officials as District Grievance Redressal Officers (DGROs) has offered tremendous opportunity to address the issue of lack of convergence for food and nutrition interventions. The Act has also mandated effective functioning of ‘Vigilance committee’ at all levels and also to carry out ‘social audit’ as a tool to address gaps and lack of transparency.

The experience of the Odisha State Food Commission can be widely shared as an example for facilitating convergence at the State and District level, where it routinely conducts review meeting on all nutrition specific and nutrition sensitive programmes and schemes. Though, taking up this role has not been a pre-conceived well thought out plan, things got in place after a series of joint review cum convergence meetings held leading to identification of a lot of issues and gaps related to food and nutrition interventions. Among the nutrition issues reviewed in such meetings, five are already a part of NFSA like Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), supplementary nutrition under ICDS, Mid Day Meals (MDM) and Maternity Benefit Programme. Other related schemes/ activities are also reviewed in these meetings like ‘National Iron Plus initiative (NIPI), Calcium supplementation to pregnant and lactating mothers, Deworming programme, Vitamin A supplementation, facility based management of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), SABLA (Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls), Swachha Bharat Mission (SBM) and livelihood related programmes like MGNREGA, land lease and land demarcation under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM). The outcomes of such review meetings and advisories issued by the Commission have already started creating good impacts.

With the effective functioning of an independent DGRO, such convergent reviews and actions can be taken up at the District and Block level on a regular basis and issues which arise due to lack of sharing or coordination can easily be addressed. The vigilance committee at all levels can monitor implementation and bridge the gaps. It is high time that all the State Governments framed rules soon after the constitution of State Food Commission and put in position a grievance redressal mechanism as mandated under the NFSA, 2013. This empowered body, equipped with sound technical knowledge on food and nutrition issues, can play a significant role in addressing the gap of a coordinating cum regulating body, much needed for most nutrition interventions where ever convergent action is required.

Shri Ranglal Jamuda, IAS(Retd.)
Odisha State Food Commission
Niranjan Bariyar
Nutrition Consultant 
Odisha State Food Commission

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