JHARKHAND: Years ago, Kaushalya Devi, a resident of Ghasibari village in the interiors of Maoist- affected Khunti, had little access to nutritious food. She is now growing vegetables at her home and earning money for the work done in her kitchen garden under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The ‘Didi Bari Yojana’ launched by the State Rural Development Department encourages and trains women to plant green vegetables in their kitchen gardens for their own consumption.
The scheme aims to deal with nutrition deficiency among women and children in the rural areas of Jharkhand. “Even though we had surplus land, we did not plant vegetables as our staple diet was plain rice with some potatoes or garlic. Under this scheme, we were told about the importance of green vegetables and also provided training by ‘Didi Bari Sakhi’, who also provided seeds and technical support in planting vegetables in our backyard,” said Kaushalya Devi.
Now, her entire family consumes green vegetables as these are easily available in the backyard, she added. Another beneficiary, Ambika Devi of Gutjora village in Khunti, said due to lack of awareness, many like her never planted vegetables in the land available with them. “We preferred to grow only seasonal vegetables which could be easily planted without making extra effort and investment as we never had money for purchasing seeds.
Now, we are not only provided seeds but also money for our work, which really encourages us to grow more vegetables,” said Ambika Devi. She is now growing spinach, carrot, radish, tomato, cauliflower, beat and several other vegetables which earlier were beyond her access, she said. According to the beneficiaries, they have taken a pledge to consume nutritious food and encourage others in the village to have healthy food to make the state malnourishment free.
Farming under the scheme is being done through organic methods so that women and children could get pure food. According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) data of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Jharkhand is among the top five states with malnourished children. Almost half (45.3%) of Jharkhand’s children below the age of five are stunted, compared to the national average of 38.4%. Almost half (47.8%) of Jharkhand’s children are underweight, placing the state behind only Bihar and Madhya Pradesh in child malnutrition levels.
Officials say more than 3 lakh rural women have been connected with the scheme so far, which will be extended up to 5 lakh women in the next three months. “We are targeting rural women, who are malnourished and anemic, to cater to their daily nutritional requirements of iron, minerals and vitamins. This scheme enables them to grow vegetables of high nutritional value in their own kitchen gardens,” said Rural Development secretary Aradhna Patnaik. Out of the three lakh women connected with the scheme, nearly 1.5 lakh families have already started getting green vegetables from their kitchen gardens while the rest are under the process of getting them soon, she said.
Around 13,000 women have been trained to provide technical support to rural women and are known as ‘Didi Baadi Sakhi.’ “To bring about a largescale change in the nutrition deficiency status among the rural poor, a convergence between MGNREGA and Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) was necessary to promote such a scheme,” says JSLPS State Programme Officer (Social Development) Suvakanta Nayak.
The officer said the scheme is related to nutrition deficiency behaviour and aims at bringing changes in the behaviour aspect among the poor and needy villagers who do not have access to healthy food. It aims at combating nutrition deficiency through dietary diversification by promoting nutri-gardens in the backyard area of the rural poor, he said. “The scheme is primarily meant for the women belonging to vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) families,” said Nayak. He said the most significant part is that it also generates additional employment among rural women for working in their own kitchen gardens. The JSLPS provides 8-10 types of seeds based on the seasonal context and nutrition aspects to the targeted families.