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The Nutrient Content In Our Food Is Gradually Going Down. Can You Guess Why?

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A recent article in ‘The New York Times’ said that the nutrient content in our food is gradually going down. Can you guess why?

Yes, of course, adding pesticides and insecticides is one of the pivotal reasons, but the rate of photosynthesis, along with the elevated greenhouse gas emission is catalyzing the process. My grandparents used to say that potato supplements supply our body with phosphorous, manganese, and niacin. But in the last five years, have you heard anyone saying that ‘Potato is beneficial for our health?’ It’s not because adding potato on a plate of Biriyani makes it look organized and tasty, but because it has no such quantifiable nutrient values now.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the past couple of decades are affecting both our quality and quantity of food significantly. They are accelerating the anthropogenic climate change, especially in the tropical regions, which brings down the crop yield mainly due to a shift in the rainfall pattern (thus causing floods) and extreme heatwaves. Furthermore, in a low-income and a middle-income country, the effect of this climate change on food quality gets magnified.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the past couple of decades are affecting both our quality and quantity of food significantly. Image via Flickr

The increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide directly affects the nutrient quality of food by around (5-15 %) in case of proteins and approximately 30% for Vitamin B. The Calvin cycle (C3) cycle in plants (especially in wheat, rice, potatoes, barley) gets accelerated due to the presence of an abundance of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Therefore, even as the quantity may go up, the quality depreciates as the cycle-time lowers, providing less time to synthesize the nutrients.

Now, with the elevating problems of global food insecurities, the decrease in the nutrient quality shall further make the scenario go haywire. Let’s take the example of potato once again and assume that due to economic constraints, I can afford only a couple of potatoes a day. With this problem of the nutrient devaluation, I need to buy two more potatoes to synchronize with the previous nutrient value. But then, what about the prospects of cost and affordability considering my financial situation?

Data suggests that as of 2018, 821 million people suffer from global food insecurity, out of that, 151 million are children. With 2 million people having malnutrition-related problems due to the deficiencies of iron, zinc, and magnesium, micronutrient insufficiency is gradually evolving to be one of the potential threats to the lower-income countries. With a reinforced prompt from the affected economy, the deficiencies adversely affect cognitive development, metabolism, obesity, diabetes, and other health outcomes, potentially affecting health and welfare across the life course.

Data suggests that as of 2018, 821 million people suffer from global food insecurity, out of that, 151 million are children.

A numerical analysis, along with simulation tools, carried out by Weyant et al., described that CO2-induced reductions in the concentrations of zinc and iron in crops could influence the life patterns of 125.8 million people globally, mainly affecting Southeast Asian and sub-Saharan African countries. The risk might increase to 600 million later this century in states with the highest levels of rice consumption and the lowest overall gross domestic product per capita if the officials do not start addressing the issue.

I believe the problem of these nutrient concerns can start a cascade reaction of poverty, several mysterious illnesses, and deaths in extreme cases. These risks shall gradually magnify if the effects of CO2 on livestock can be considered in the context, which generates more than 15% of the global human protein supply. On an additional note, disruption of the carbon cycle shall automatically disrupt the nitrogen and the phosphorus cycle, and thus the entire ecological balance.

Malnutrition, when supported by climate change and economic crisis, proves to be one of the fatal factors to elevate multiple health problems. Technologists, scientists, emerging companies, industrialists, and entrepreneurs should blend to draft a solution for this burgeoning problem. We need to realize that thousands of children start their journey from the pavements. Owing to their economic constraints, they have to begin their journey ten kilometres behind from us. Furthermore, they are running the same race along with us with no breakfast, two potatoes in
their lunch and water for dinner.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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