Tip | Health and the nutritional value of indigenous grains, seeds and millets: “The tribal food basket has always been ­diverse and nutritious”

How India compares with the world
Graphic by Praveen G. & Damayanti Datta
© Outlook India (14 August 2019)
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By Damayanti Datta | Read the full article >>

Despite designing the world’s earliest and largest schemes on hunger and malnutrition, having surplus grains and food wastage, millions of Indians go to sleep hungry every night. It’s an invisible emergency that India must get rid of

It’s a crisis that hides in plain sight. […] At the heart of global geopolitics, India is an emerging superpower at 72. But away from the spotlights, here starvation stalks, families battle chronic hunger to stay alive, lack of food starts from the womb, underweight mothers give birth to undersized children, while low immunity snuffs out vulnerable lives. […]

One in three children is stunted in India, too short for their age. One in five Indian children suffers from wasting, too thin for their height. One in four is underweight, too thin for one’s age, reports the Global Hunger Index 2018. “ […]

What’s worrying is the havoc that malnutrition can cause to a child’s cognitive abilities, brain development, health and product­ivity—often irreversibly—starting in the first two years of life. […]

The tribal food basket has always been ­diverse and nutritious, including maize, minor millets like kodo and kutki, oil seeds like ramtila, along with fruits, leaves, ­rhizomes, mushrooms, meat and fish,” says Bal. “We have pushed them out of their complementary relationship with ecology, way of life and time-tested nutrition. […]

Indians who sleep hungry every night number 19 crore. They are one-third of the world’s ­malnourished.

It is the secret story of India. Three-quarters of the world’s teenage births take place in India. New research shows how the health of children born to adolescent mothers is far inferior to those born to adult mothers (The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, July 2019). A 2015 study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health pinpoints the five most ­important predictors of childhood ­malnourishment, three of which have a ­direct link to mothers: maternal underweight, short maternal stature, a mother with no education, extreme poverty and poor ­dietary diversity. “Undernourished girls become undernourished mothers, who in turn give birth to low-weight ­babies, perpetuating a vicious cycle,” says Basanta Kumar Kar, country director at Project Concern International.

Doctors across the country are analysing mental maps of communities to understand malnutrition. What they find is an eye-opener: misconceptions, myths and malpractices in the name of customs and traditions, often dictated by elderly women of the household. […]

“It’s a man-made crisis,” says Balram, advisor to the Supreme Court on right to food, in Ranchi. Until the 1960s, India had a sustainable agricultural system and natural food security, explains the act­ivist who worked closely with Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement in Bihar. People grew whatever they needed, or gathered from the surroundings—weeds, herbs, fruits, fish, livestock. The consumption of traditional coarse grains, pulses and millets, rich sources of vegetable protein with balanced amino acid profile, was exceptionally large.

The green ­revolution changed the way people ate. A host of indigenous grains, seeds and millets disappeared. […]

“The world and India so far has focused on food security and we have achieved a lot,” says Purvi Mehta, Head of Asia for Agriculture at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Having reached that hard-earned goal, the next step is tackling malnutrition,” she says. The impact of the word, however, goes beyond hunger and health—about 40 per cent of school absence in rural India is ­attributed to only one factor: malnutrition. […]

Photo: Usha Ramesh
Outlook India (14 August 2019)

Source: Rage Of A Silent, Invisible Killer Called Malnutrition – Why Shining India Is In Grip Of An Epic Calamity, Outlook Magazine, 14 August 2019)
URL: https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/india-news-rage-of-a-silent-invisible-killer-called-malnutrition-why-shining-india-is-in-grip-of-an-epic-calamity/302037
Date visited: 22 August 2019


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Public health and food security depend on citizens’ willingness to “use and share resources in a sustainable and equitable manner”. The nation’s “primary conservers” – often tribal farmers – are now seen as guardians of biological diversity (Genome Saviour Award); and entitled to protection under the law known as Biodiversity Act. – M S Swaminathan

To watch a brief video appeal and learn more about the legacy a the scientist whose a research foundation (MSSRF) is funded by proceeds from the First World Food Prize (1987)

Research the above issues with the help of Shodhganga: A reservoir of theses from universities all over India, made available under Open Access >>

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