Food and Nutritional Security in Himalayan Region-Efforts and Innovations

Posted on December 23, 2010

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One of the reports of Planning Commission of India in 2006 revealed that, the state of undernourishment of the population, one of poverty’s finer manifestations, is much higher than national average in several Indian mountain states, like-Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Tripura. Similarly, to give an overview of the problems, a study carried out by the Government of India (Department of Agriculture and Cooperation in 2005)  notes that, the mountain states like Uttarakhand have moderate food productivity and low food accessibility, and it is among the severely food insecure states of India.

Given the scenario that, livelihoods in the Himalaya Mountains at large is based primarily on subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry practices, the rapidly changing socio-economic scenario and lesser agriculture productivity leads to the increasing incidences of poor health and malnutrition. Earlier, in the mountain region, people used to only purchase sugar and salt from the market, are now very much depend on the food supply from downstream farmers. There are lesser evidences that, the present population is kept informed or aware about the available food in the form of cereals, millets, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, spices, condiments, fruits, wild edible fruits and wild edible vegetables.

The mix cropping system where cereals, pulses, vegetables and oilseeds were grown together, are nowhere in existence in this region, leading to food insecurity and higher malnutrition manifestations.  It has also been established that, the traditional food habit had the positive aspects in qualitative and quantitative terms, towards food availability, mineral and nutritional requirements. The elderly people in the region say that, there were seldom incidences of health problems like; cancer, kidney stone, blood pressure, diabetes, heart and gall bladder, etc.   

It seems that, sooner the existence of cereals like; amaranthus, buckwheat, chenopodium, etc, Millets; finger millet, kodo, etc, Pulses; lentils, chickpea, etc, Oil seeds; yellow sarson, brown sarson, litsea, etc, Vegetables; okra, lai, elephant foot yam, etc, Spices; cleome, coriander, fenugreek, etc, Fruits; loquat, walnut, pear, apricot, peach, etc. and wild edible fruits and vegetable will be in the history of mountain food habits. 

The new generation youth is even not aware about the traditional food habits, their health and nutritional benefits, as they are not at all promoted in the region as required. While there is the need to encourage such food habits through government canteens, mid-day meal programs, food served in various trainings and workshops, and putting such stalls in various exhibitions and trade fairs.

One of my colleagues Dr. Preetam says that, “Government has the record of people admitted in their hospital from each village, but, no record related to the people with good health due to their traditional food habits”. He further mentions that, “to encourage nutritional security for better health through food habits, people and organizations should be identified, involved and appreciated at each level”.

The Climate Himalaya Initiative’s partner ‘Beej Bachao Andolan (Save the Seeds Movement, Link: http://beejbachaoandolan.org/ ) , is working since 1980s in Uttarakhand mountains of India on various agro-biodiversity conservation initiatives. The focus of the movement is to draw links between the erosion of agricultural biodiversity and rural livelihoods, in promoting traditional agriculture and crop varieties. It promotes the method called ‘barahnaja’ (12 grains), where a number of cereals and legumes are inter-cropped. Due to consistent efforts of BBA, today it could diversify about 100 varieties of paddy, 170 varieties of kidney beans, eight varieties of wheat, four varieties of barley and about a dozen varieties of pulses and oil seeds. The BBA initiative considers important aspects related to; traditional knowledge, enabling self-sufficiency in food, conserve traditional biodiversity to enhance food security and promote healthy food habits, among others.

It is evident that, the food and agricultural innovation can help at large in reducing health and nutrition security vis-à-vis poverty targets, but, the need is that our scientific findings, research outputs, innovative ideas and extension services go hand-in-hand, and they are communicated timely and effectively.

One could also refer the study carried out by Dr. P.S. Mehta et al in 2009 (Download Link http://bit.ly/fMF9qC ) about various agriculture crops by the farming communities.