India’s Nutritional Status
After relative silence for months, events related to Poshan maah or nutrition month have begun. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has planned a series of nutrition awareness activities, including identification of severely acute malnourished (SAM) children and distribution of nutritious food across the country throughout September. This is a commendable exercise. However, it won’t make much impact if the menace of malnutrition is not addressed at the grassroots level with community involvement. The fact is that it has been more than three years since the Indian government launched its ambitious Poshan Abhiyaan or Nutrition Mission scheme to improve nutritional status of children up to six years, pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescent girls; it was intended to benefit millions of people. Such social welfare schemes won’t go vain, yet the country is far from overcoming malnutrition. The Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani had recently shared in the Rajya Sabha that the number of SAM children in the country, identified by the ministry as of November 2020, was 9.27 lakh. It shows a grim picture of India’s nutritional status. The issue could deepen with the Covid-19 threat continuing to loom large.
For Nagaland, a possible food scarcity due to drought-like situation this year could hamper the mission to solve malnourishment, besides Covid pandemic. Farmers have expressed apprehensions over agricultural activities being affected by the delayed monsoon and insufficient rainfall. The fear is real as about 70% of the state’s population is still dependent on agriculture for livelihood and balanced diet is something villagers aren’t aware of even during normal times. The state’s Horticulture department has initiated winter vegetable seeds distribution programme to identified villages across the state as part of Covid-19 post pandemic economic recovery activities but that alone may not be enough to solve the possible food shortage. Spot verification of the affected areas by experts is necessary to assess the gravity of the situation and necessary measures should be taken if found genuine. Both the central and state governments should step in and assist the farmers who are sandwiched between the pandemic and the inability to cultivate food items due to water scarcity. Only then the Centre’s flagship programme Poshan Abhiyaan will have meaning.
While continuing to implement short-term schemes to help vulnerable sections of the society, the central and state governments also should take up adequate long-term measures like job creation to tackle malnutrition more effectively. One of the reasons why India still continues to battle stunting, anaemia, wasting, underweight, obesity, etc. caused by malnutrition despite being one of the world’s top producers of food items, is because of unemployment and economic inequality. Nutritious food has failed to reach the tables of the people not because of lack of food items in the market but mostly due to low income. So, awareness and strengthening of citizen’s purchasing power will help improve the country’s nutritional status and sustain it.