THE Maharashtra government has come up with a new strategy to tackle malnourishment, specially iron deficiency, in women and children across the state.
Starting next year, women in rural pockets would be trained to develop a kitchen farm on 100-square-foot plots behind their individual huts to grow vegetables that will be nutrient rich besides being cost-effective. The move aims to ensure that rural children do not have to depend on supplementary food packets provided by the government to improve iron content in their body.
The concept was first tried out in Ahmednagar and Nashik districts without utilising any government funds earlier this year. A recent government resolution will now ensure that this is officially implemented across the state. Palghar, Thane and Yavatmal will be covered under this initiative to train locals about the concept of kitchen farms through aanganwadi workers.
According to Dr Vinita Singh of the Integrated Child Development System (ICDS), training in every village would be organised at local aanganwadis where tiny plots nearby would be utilised to train women in sowing and children in watering the plants. “Women can use domestic water, like what is left after washing clothes or utensils, for watering the plants. We are focusing on easily available varieties that are also rich in iron, such as spinach, fenugreek, carrots and cauliflower,” Singh said.
Kitchen waste will be used for manure in the farms.
According to health officials, who are working along with ICDS in this programme, over 20 varieties can be grown on 10/10 square feet, with land availability easier in villages than urban areas. The yield will be first used by households, while the surplus can be sold for some extra income.
Data from the state public health department shows that since 2011-2012, as many as 2,439 children have been referred to nutrition rehabilitation centres till now, and 5.37 lakh sent to voluntary counselling and training centres. While the government provides ‘take home rations’, Jijamata Mother and Child Nutrition Mission officials claim it is not properly utilised by mothers and children. The health department now feels that villagers must be encouraged to improve their diet on their own instead of solely depending on supplementary food items provided by the government.
“If extra plot is available, we will also train them to plant papaya and drumstick trees, both rich in nutrients,” said Singh.
Data available with the state health department, however, shows malnutrition rates have dipped in Maharashtra. Stunting, an impediment in a child’s growth, has come down from 39 per cent in 2005-2006 to 22 per cent till May 2012. According to I A Kundan, who heads the National Health Mission in Maharashtra, the percentage of underweight children dropped from 29 per cent to 22 per cent during the the same period. “We still have to further control malnourishment. Improving diet and proper breastfeeding can also help bring down the number of underweight and undernourished children,” she said.