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December 16, 2009
Tribal women in India fight against malnutrition

Young girls from Madhya Pradesh’s tribal communities near in the town of Dhar. Photo: Overseas Development Institute

Worldfocus partner World Pulse is a media enterprise covering global issues through the eyes of women. This post is excerpted from their PulseWire project, an international online forum for women. In it, Subhadra Khaperde, an activist and researcher from Indore, India, argues that anti-poverty efforts won’t succeed without addressing the root causes of poverty.

There is an interesting hiatus between the perceptions of tribal women and the NGOs regarding the problem of child malnutrition in Madhya Pradesh state in India.

While Chato, a Sahariya tribal woman, emphatically states that the lack of land, means of livelihood, electricity and medical facilities are the main barriers to keeping her children alive the NGOs are more concerned about the improper functioning and lack of universalisation of supplementary child nutrition services.

Thus while the poor women have hit upon the correct analysis that the lasting solution to the problem of malnutrition is in providing adequate and sustainable livelihood opportunities. The NGOs campaigning for an end to malnutrition on the other hand are more concerned with trying to improve the quality of the superficial bandage services being provided by the State. Plants need water at their roots and not on their leaves.

The crisis of malnutrition is there among all the poor and Madhya Pradesh is the state with the most number of hungry people in India. However, the children owing to their lower immunity are more prone to die than their elders are.

The truth is that devastation of livelihoods in Madhya Pradesh has taken place due to the adoption of wrong agricultural policies over the past 40 years or so.

The introduction of the cultivation of soyabean in the monsoon season has led to the gradual vanishing of such nutritious crops as jowar, bajra, makka, udad, tuar, moong and groundnut.

Simultaneously, in the winter season only wheat is sown and the area under gram has been going down. Thus while earlier the poor small farmers used to get nutritious food from their farms they now have to purchase food from the market at exorbitant prices.

Moreover, while agriculture was a profitable enterprise earlier because of subsidies provided for power and fertilizer now it has become a loss-making proposition due to the withdrawal of subsidies.

The problem has been aggravated over time by the fragmentation of land with the increase in population. This has meant that there are now more landless labourers like Chato who get less work and less remuneration and so are in even greater trouble than small landholders.

– Subhadra Khaperde

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