When activists and nutritionists of the CWS (Centre for World Solidarity) first came to Parmila Hembram of Siri village, Jharkhand, to talk to her about including all the three colours of the national flag – orange, white and green – in her family’s daily diet, she was confused. That’s when she was told that her son, Pramod, would end up weak and ill, just like many of the neighbourhood children, if she did not keep a check on what he was eating. “They told me that besides rice and potato we also need vegetables and milk to develop immunity and make the bones strong,” she reveals, as reported by Welthungerhilfer. Despite the fact that wild greens and pumpkin grew in the vicinity, they were never cooked because, traditionally, food in the family was all about rice and potatoes. What Pramila did not know was that such sustained imbalanced intake was effectively making her family vulnerable to ill health and putting her four-year-old son, Pramod, at risk of malnutrition.
Parmila was not the only one who was cooking up a carbohydrate-rich meal in the region says Rajesh Jha of CWS. “Siri wasn’t an isolated village facing nutrition deficiency. The reality was that people were not aware of the need to have an adequate and balanced diet. When we conducted a study on nutrition security in rural Jharkhand what came to our notice was that people just liked to eat rice and potato. Their idea of ‘proper food’ was the quantity consumed and not the quality,” added Rajesh.
Last year, when several incidents of infant deaths were reported from Deoghar district and attributed to chronic, neonatal and pregnancy-related complications, they brought into sharp focus the problem of malnutrition that the region was facing. This was also when the CWS decided to do the hunger mapping exercise here, randomly picking fifty villages in Devipur block for the survey. The findings that emerged certainly proved to be an eye-opener.
Armed with this information Rajesh and his team realised that by motivating women to add variety to their daily meals, they could improve the health of the community. To ensure this positive behavioural change, they introduced the ‘tiranga bhojan’, or tricolur meal, approach in all the 50 project villages in block.
According to the CWS team’s observations, none of the elements of the ‘tiranga bhojan’ are difficult to source or cultivate locally. Produce such as jackfruit, fenugreek, spinach, ‘bathua’ (wild spinach), red spinach, and a variety of beans, grow easily within a span of two months and provides much-needed iron. Yet, despite this, it wasn’t simple getting women to make the switch. There were even cultural practices to contend with. In some pockets, tribal customs banned the intake of certain nutrition-rich foods like soyabean and mushrooms.
What did help, however, were local volunteers like Sweta Devi, 26, who is a graduate in Rural Development, who took her role as a health volunteer very seriously. “I know how difficult it sometimes can be to put food on the table in these parts. During the monsoon season, in particular, villages here become inaccessible and we have seen severe food scarcity in many households. So we try to tell everyone to utilise what is locally available and is good for health,” says Sweta.
Sweta finds that with the ‘tiranga bhojan’ approach, things have improved considerably. “Women know it’s better to forage or grow tricolour foods than look for a competent doctor later on,” adds Sweta.
Welthungerhilfer is a non-profit making, non-denominational and politically independent organisation. It is run by a board of honorary members under the patronage of the Federal Republic of Germany. The South Asia Regional Office with its headquarters in India also serves the countries Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In South Asia, over the past 50 years Welthungerhilfe has supported around 1,000 rural development projects through local partner organization who work with the most vulnerable and marginalised people.