How the fight against malnutrition is becoming a Jan Andolan in India

Dr Ananya Awasthi
Contd from previous issue
Marrying tradition with evidence, nutritious food items like fresh fruits and vegetables are arranged alongside seasonal flowers, to convert the floral Bathukamma into a Poshan Bathukamma and increase awareness around the nutritional value of the food on display.
Jan Andolan campaign is also taking on to the streets with the organization of Poshan Melas, Poshan Raths, Millet Melas, Poshan Walks & Cycle Rallies to generate collective intent and action amongst the communities. For example, in UP, Bihar and Rajasthan-Anganwadi workers, school teachers and communities have been organizing “Prabhat Pheris” (Morning Processions) for delivering nutrition education to the local population.
Given the focus on dietary diversity to improve nutritional parameters, MoWCD has also directed States to host cooking competitions and demonstration of traditional recipes at Anganwadi Centers.
With a visual display of locally sourced, nutritious, and colorful food produce and branded as a “Dadi Nani Ki Rasoi”, such community activities are aimed at targeting young mothers.
 This SBCC activity deploys “role modelling” by trained mothers and elderly women of the community to educate mothers and their family members about the importance of cooking and consuming nutritionally rich food.  Not restricting the responsibility of nutrition to only women folks, Anganwadi Workers in Gujarat have been celebrating “Suposhan Diwas”, specifically targeting husbands of pregnant women and mothers of children below the age of 2 year. The focus of behaviour change communication is to foster responsibility amongst men of the family to enable and practice the uptake of appropriate feeding practices for the mother and child in the household. Additionally, with the MoWCD promoting a plantation drive for Poshan Vatikas (nutrition gardens) under Poshan Months, Odisha has been a forerunner with the rolling out of a dedicated program called “Mo Upakari Bagicha”- or My Beneficial Garden.
Inconvergence with different departments, especially the livelihoods mission, SHGs have come together to plants vegetables, fruit bearing trees, herbal plants retrofitted with poultry farms to improve dietary diversity of pregnant women and young children.
Moving forward, MoWCD has an opportunity to scale up “Poshan Panchayats” as an innovative platform for action-based community dialogue, thus transforming Jan Andolan in to a movement for “Jan Bhagidari” or community ownership. Expanding the scope of nutrition communication, education and counselling- such dedicated Panchayats for health and nutrition, can be utilized as a bottom-up platform for triggering accountability and social audit of health and nutrition services available at the grassroots, particularly for the most vulnerable populations of the society. Such Panchayats conducted at district, State and Central levels- also hold the promise of tracking multi-sectoral convergence across different Ministries overseeing health, food, nutrition, sanitation, water, and social welfare.
Conclusively, the Jan Andolan campaign has played a critical role in agenda setting for Poshan and nudging communities to recognize malnutrition as a social problem. With POSHAN Abhiyaan entering its 5th year, and MoWCD slated to release revised Poshan 2.0 guidelines, Government has a unique opportunity to undertake a Nationally represen- tative evaluation to understand the impact of the campaign on translating knowledge to behaviour change amongst the target community.
While, global evidence shows that inter-personal communication, utilization of peer-to-peer learning, roll modelling and use of television to deliver messages that are clear, easy to recall and at a regular frequency- are most effective in changing behaviours; India needs to generate and utilize evidence that is contextual to India’s social, cultural and economic realities.
To build on evidence-based policy action, further enquiry is required on the type of nutrition messages that are most influential, nature of platforms which have the widest uptake and the choice of media platforms that have beenmost successful in reaching the last mile.
Finally, we need to remind ourselves that behaviour change communication alone will not move the needle on the country’s nutritional outcomes.
Strategic communication is only a starting point and requires to be complemented with supply side nutrition interventions, access to economic resources, convergence with social determinants and an enabling environment that can pave the way for a”Kuposhan Mukta Bharat” (Malnutrition Free India).
Dr. Ananya Awasthi is a Master’s in Public Health from Harvard University and is founder-director of Anuvaad Solutions