Event ReportsPublished on Dec 12, 2019
Towards a malnutrition free India

Northern Regional Workshop on Best Practices & Innovations from POSHAN Abhiyaan

The first edition of the series of regional workshops on best practices & innovations from the POSHAN Abhiyaan was held in New Delhi on November 25-26, 2019. The two-day workshop focused on the goals, challenges and accomplishments of the POSHAN Abhiyaan in the Northern Region. The central idea behind hosting the event was to provide a platform that would facilitate the cross sharing of insights, ideas and perspectives on the key aspects and implications of the nutrition programme.

At the inaugural session, the Hon’ble minister of Women and Child Development, Smt. Smriti Irani explained the genesis of the stigma called ‘malnutrition’ and how it is no longer a ‘rural’ condition. In conversation with Dr. Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation, Smt. Smriti Irani asserted, “The vocabulary of the nutrition conversation needs to change. The language needs to shift to one on quality than one on quantity, with a focus on culturally fit, locally available solution.” The conversation focused on the convergence of efforts by the Centre, state as well as the people towards informed nutritional choices.  Smt. Irani implored the need to consider Malnutrition as a ‘family’ subject due to its impact on the family as a whole, including the men of the house. It reduces the economic stability of the household by increasing the burdens attached to obesity, diabetes, etc that accompany malnutrition at an older age.

The POSHAN Abhiyaan programme, a platform for information, engagement and administrative support, has shown how policy intervention drives change. In Tripura’s case, the engagement of the community increased from 9% to 95% in 2 years following a cultural and convergent approach. The Hon’ble Minister further mentioned the increase in political juxtaposition towards the greater cause of providing a healthier livelihood to the people. The cases of Orissa and Jharkhand are clear examples of the same. Lastly, the dialogue emphasized the importance of effectively addressing factors such as teenage pregnancy, child marriage, sanitation, clean drinking water, etc to see a lasting effect on the nutritional parameters of the people.

The conversation was followed by a keynote address by Mr. Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog, who highlighted the growing importance of introducing nutritional interventions to aid the economic growth of the country. In his address, he paid compliments to the POSHAN Abhiyaan for leveraging technology to strengthen service delivery mechanisms and to develop real-time monitoring systems. Having worked closely on the monitoring and evaluation of the POSHAN Abhiyaan, he also highlighted the need for inter-sectoral convergence to address the problem of malnutrition. In his Special address, Mr. Bishow Parajuli, the Country Director of the UN World Food Programme, also echoed these hopes and expectations. He recognized that systematic improvements and evidence based scientific research would inform a suitable way forward. The inaugural session concluded with Dr. Samir Saran’s final remark, “The children born today will enter the workforce at a critical moment. It will be their responsibility to guide India’s transition from its 20th century moorings to a leading global power in the 21st century.”

The expert panel India’s Nutritional Challenges and Opportunities examined the need for coordinated inter-sectoral action to address India’s nutrition challenges, comprising of under-nutrition, and to an increasing extent, over-nutrition. The panelists collectively agreed that social policy has been positively influenced by the sustainable development goals, however there is a combined need of political commitment, scientific leadership, resources and administrative infrastructure to improve outcomes. While India has seen multiple schemes and initiatives to eradicate malnutrition, the diversity of the country demands community level solutions to make a sustained impact. This session implored the need for high impact interventions with well-defined targets and a rigorous performance evaluation metric. It further underlined the need for effective utilization of funds and higher attention towards the Integrated Child Development Services program.

The second day of the conference saw an influx of speakers and delegates from think tanks, NGOs, multilateral agencies along with central and state government representatives to discuss the progress, challenges, innovations and way forward of the POSHAN Abhiyaan programme. The first session of Day-2 presented a detailed analysis of India’s nutritional journey and explained the challenges faced by India and the future prospects for better nutritional outcomes. The panel Nutritional Programmes: Past, Present and Lessons Learnt discussed the improvement in the ease of execution of nutritional programmes due to increasing political commitment towards a common goal. Due to shortage of human resource capacity in public health nutritional sector, it has become vital to demystify multi-sectoral planning and to incorporate innovative & practical solutions. The panel also outlined the importance of tracking changes in technology to ensure effective dissemination of funds and information to the people. The session concluded by deliberating over a staggered approach towards nutrition, where focus lies not only on the immediate issues but also on forming a blueprint for the upcoming generation.

The second session Preventing the Inter-generational Cycle of Malnutrition provided an appropriate setting for in-depth discussions on how to tackle the issues pertaining to the nutritional health of mothers along with their education to be able to counter low birth weight amongst children. Parental characteristics have a huge impact on the nutritional outcomes of a child. Preventing early pregnancies has become a key policy lever to bring down the level of low-birth weight and stunting amongst children. Not only have social and legal policy interventions proven effective in improving nutrition, they have also prevented early marriages and pregnancies.  For example, Girls exposed to mid-day meal program in schools exhibited higher nutritional & education levels. The panel also deliberated over the significance of introducing decentralized models of nutritionally adequate diets and enhanced maternity benefit schemes for women, especially in rural areas. The Panel recognized the importance of building capacity through community engagements, self-help groups and partnerships, with a proper service delivery mechanism, in order to break the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition.

In the final session, Innovative Approaches from States, discussions were centered on the inter-state variability of malnutrition. Tackling malnutrition requires scope for innovative technology, innovation in supplementary nutrition for mother and child, and a thought out behavioral change. The panel agreed on the essence of designing innovations at a micro level and collaborating with developmental organizations to inculcate nutritional habits. With fortification of staple foods, their sales should be ensured through schemes such as Integrated Child Development Services, Public distribution system and Mid-Day meal program on a sustainable basis. Northern State representatives discussed innovative and efficacious schemes such as Poshan Maah, Menu Charts, Matra Purna Yogna, Aanchal Amrit Yojana and Aao Chaliye Aanganwadi, that have not only increased awareness amongst the masses, but also the motivation amongst the communities to take ownership towards promoting a healthy lifestyle. The discussion received strong support from delegates and participants on the need to strengthen the cultural connect amongst the communities and the authorities.

The workshop concluded with valedictory remarks shared by Smt. Debashree Chaudhary, Hon’ble Minister of State, Ministry of Women and Child Development. In her remarks, Smt. Chaudhary stressed on the economic impact of malnutrition in India. She stated that the POSHAN Abhiyaan Scheme strives to reduce stunting from 38.4% (NFHS-4) to 25% by 2022 (Mission 25 by 2022). Community involvement is a key strategy of the Ministry of Women and Child Development in fighting malnutrition. Furthermore, the introduction of an effective grievance redressal mechanism aims to strengthen food and nutrition security. The Hon’ble Minister of State also stated the need to strengthen transparency and accountability mechanisms within the system, to improve efficiency and impact of programmes. In summing up, she thanked the speakers and delegates for being a part of the platform, which aims to trigger meaningful conversations and facilitate cross-pollination of ideas across the country. It is her belief that timely focus on human capital will ensure that India’s ‘youth bulge’ will become a demographic dividend and not a ‘demographic bomb’.

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