Fighting Malnutrition for Child Welfare in Chhattisgarh with Kitchen Gardens

Introducing kitchen gardens in anganwadis in Chhattisgarh is an initiative that will be an effective step towards addressing malnutrition in one of the poorest states of the country. This has greatly boosted the morale of the anganwadi workers working in the region where the situation of malnutrition is worrying. In a bid to provide fresh and healthy food to children and expectant mothers, anganwadis in remote areas of Gariyaband and Korba district have set up kitchen gardens in their backyards. Child support and welfare are the prime objectives for any anganwadi.

“We decided to set up kitchen gardens mainly to promote the idea of providing nutritious and fresh food (including local fruits and vegetables) to anganwadi children between the ages of 3 to 6 years. We wanted to diversify the food basket so that malnutrition could be combated in one way or the other and hence the idea of having a kitchen garden seemed apt. Also, it was an experiment to instill more confidence and self worth in the anganwadi worker. The experiments resulted in motivating the anganwadi worker to such an extent, that they also started to grow vegetables in their own house land and bring the vegetables to serve the children in anganwadi,” explains Kumar Nilendu, General Manager, Development Support, CRY (Western Region). CRY as a prominent non profit organization in India works relentlessly towards uplifting the lives of children and people.

AWW of Vijaynagar planting seeds in Kitchen Garden

The concept of nutrition garden in anganwadis is somewhat similar to home gardens, saplings planted in small plots in the backyard. Beyond the reward of homegrown produce, gardens not only provide easy access to fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables, they also help in the health and environmental aspect as well.

Anganwadis generally purchase and transport vegetables from local markets to prepare mid-day meals which are later fed to the children and expectant mothers. This unique concept will not only reduce the time spent in the logistics but also help in providing fresh produce right in front on one’s eyes.

The work on kitchen gardens began three years ago by CRY and its project partner Lok Aastha Seva Sansthaan (LASS) has been working in 22 anganwadis in 12 villages across Gariyaband district in areas of malnutrition and education and also in providing complete nutritional diet to children and expecting mothers. The idea of kitchen gardens was shared with anganwadi workers and the community in much detail. They were told that having a kitchen garden not only helped in utilization of empty spaces but that it also facilitated cultivation of chemical-free nutrient rich vegetables that helps in the physical and mental development of their children.

“Initially when our project workers discussed the kitchen garden process with anganwadi workers they backed out saying that it was too much of extra work. Villagers too refused to be a part of it saying that their cows, goats and pigs shall destroy the plants in a jiffy and that it wasn’t worth it at all. We had to convince them to keep their domestic animals indoors and not allow them outside at night if they wanted to make this a success,” points out Nilendu who further adds that after many meetings and discussions 6 anganwadi centres were selected to kickstart the project.

Kitchen Garden of Tilaidadar

If all went well, the project would be duplicated in more villages. Empty spaces measuring 30 square feet in the anganwadi centres of Tilaidadar, Amalipara,Vijaynagar, Karanpara, Umravpara and Bhainsamunda were identified and secured. The vegetable seeds for cultivation were provided by the community. Both the anganwadi workers and villagers pooled in their efforts to take care of the garden. The latter kept their hens, ducks and goats tied up so that they couldn’t trample on the plants. The garden was regularly watered and monitored and was irrigated using the water used for cleaning utensils. The village community provided cow dung as manure and organic fertilizer for the soil to further produce fresh vegetables. Soon the garden witnessed a healthy growth of green leafy vegetables like amaranthus, spinach, fenugreek leaves, coriander leaves as well and brinjal, okra, papaya as well as pumpkin, bottle gourd etc.

Malnutrition is a major problem and a key weapon that can be deployed to minimize this problem is ensuring a balanced diet and hygiene. The kitchen garden was a step in this direction. Today, children are fed fresh, healthly and nutritious vegetables in their plate directly from these very kitchen gardens.

Sita Bai Gor, an anganwadi worker from Umravpara says that she is happy with the way the project has turned out. “Apart from vegetables we need to plant fast growing fruits like banana and papaya. They are more beneficial,” she says. Shyambai Gor from Tilaidadar village says that parents too are happy and are showing involvement in their own way. “Many parents are thinking of cultivating smaller kitchen gardens in their homes. I know of families who have set up such gardens in their backyard and are utilizing used water to water the plants,” she says. Any non profit organization wants to concentrate on building better environment and help in restoring it.

“The kitchen gardens were started as a pilot project and have been appreciated by everyone. I believe other anganwadis will also be encouraged to adopt this initiative so that children can receive fresh and nutritious chemical free vegetables which are beneficial to their health,” says Lata Netam, Project Head, Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan. “If a kitchen garden is cultivated to improve the health of children then everyone should participate in this. It is a good initiative to reduce malnutrition in children,” says Branha Ram Gor, from Vijaynagar.

“The major food related issues faced by tribal communities across include a disproportionate food basket i.e. they consume mainly staple foods and less that contain required amounts of vitamins and minerals. This is most common in the tribal areas of states like Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh as well as Maharashtra, where deprived tribal children get an imbalanced diet, resulting in high rates of malnutrition. Moreover, tribals are usually economically backward and data reveals that some Primitive Tribal Groups (PTG) are so poor that their children are always stuck in a constant state of hunger”

The situation of children belonging to Scheduled Tribes in the country is as follows:

  • 5% children under 5 are stunted
  • 7% children under 5 suffer from wasting
  • 8% children under 5 are underweight
  • Source: Rapid Survey on Children India Factsheet (RSOC) 2013-14

Ever since LASS implemented the kitchen garden project in selected areas along with other efforts to address malnourishment in children, the percentage of children suffering from malnutrition has started to show a decrease by approximately 9-10 percent. So a multi-dimensional approach is required to address the complex issue of malnutrition, but enriching food baskets is a necessary element, especially in tribal communities.

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