Improving Household Food and Nutrition

Background

Given the growing uncertainties in weather and likely turbulence in crop production cycles, food production systems in rain fed areas need to build food resilience by diversifying the sources of food and income, and maintaining homestead gardens so there is a range of supplementary foods for households for year-round food and nutrition security.

The setting up of Homestead Nutrition Gardens in rural homesteads homes emerged as an important recommendation during a National Conference on Climate Change and Food Security1 organised by Gene Campaign. The Conference sought to come up with a special package of recommendations for national, state and local activities to be undertaken that would minimise risks to income, food and nutrition security in the face of climate changes. Of the 20 key recommendations that emerged (see details in the chapter Policy Advocacy) the one related to securing year-round nutrition recommended encouraging small farmer families to set up and maintain homestead gardens. These would play the role of making up deficits in food and nutrition from climate related yield losses.

 

Activities to improve household food and nutrition

- Setting up nurseries of nutritious plants and vegetables

Establishing village-level nurseries to support household gardens that can provide supplementary
nutrition and make up for crop losses due to climate change is one of Gene Campaign’s activities that directly address hunger and nutrition on a household basis.

Nutritious, locally adapted plants are stocked and multiplied at these village nurseries for villagers to access and use in setting up their homestead gardens.

These nurseries are set up on a shared basis with the community providing land and Gene Campaign supplying the planting material. The nurseries stock planting material for linseed (rich in omega 3 fatty acids) golden fleshed yellow sweet potato, (high in vitamin A), hardy legumes and green leafy vegetables. Saplings of fruits trees and herbs such as papaya, banana, tulsi, turmeric, and aloe vera are widely promoted and distributed for a nominal fee to families so they can be grown at homestead gardens. The Moringa oleifera, the Drumstick tree or the ‘miracle tree (its flowers, pods, leaves and bark are high in nutrients such amino acids, vitamins A, B and C, potassium, calcium etc) is actively promoted for the health of infants, adolescent girls and nursing mothers. Moringa is especially promising as a food source because the tree is in full leaf at the end of the dry season when other foods are typically scarce.


- Promoting homestead gardens within the community

The nurseries set up by Gene Campaign not only stock planting material of nutritious fruits and vegetable plants, they also serve as demonstration gardens where women, girls and youth from the community are shown how to grow and care for these plants.


- Collection and characterization of edible wild bio-resources

Field weeds used as leafy greens (saags) have been collected, characterised and multiplied in many nurseries for communities to take samples from. A total of 87 leafy greens and 31 edible plants from the forest and semi-domesticated tubers such as Paisa kand, Suar nathu, Bargeria, Navrangan are part of the nutrition nurserises and homestead gardens today.


- Promoting underutilised foods

To enhance the food basket and increase dietary diversity, underutilized plants as tubers, semi wild vegetables, millets, yams, leafy green vegetables and other underutilized crops are collected from forests and fields and maintained in the village level gardens. Seed and planting material is generated and distributed to local families to plant around their homes as supplementary food.

Most of these plants were once developed as ‘famine foods’ by rural and tribal communities to tide them over bad weather conditions when other crops fail. These crops are hence adapted to do well in sub optimal climate conditions and are valuable crops today. Though traditionally these wild plants were consumed by rural and tribal communities, in the present their use has been drastically reduced for a variety of social reasons. Having documented these nutritious plants with help of the elders in the community Gene Campaign is reviving their cultivation to build up a bank of foods for the community for crisis periods. This approach is providing a secondary source of food and nutrition for families.

Less utilised grains often referred to as pseudocereals occur as life support species in extreme environmental situations or threatened habitats. These pseudocerealshave such as amaranth, buckwheat and chenopod which had a high degree of acceptability in the poor farming households are being re-grown and re-introduced into the local diet for additional nutrition security.


- Training in food processing

To ensure supply of nutritional foods for adolescent girls throughout the year, demos and trainings are conducted with the Food and Nutrition Board, Govt. of India on value addition, processing and preservation of nutrition in leafy greens, vegetables, fruits and pulses.