Food and peace link each other for those living and working in conflict-prone and food-insecure environments.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 to the World Food Programme (WFP) “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”.
India is one of the world’s largest food producers and has the primary source of livelihood for a majority of people as agriculture. Ironically, India also hosts the largest population of hungry people with one-third of the world’s malnourished children and a Global Hunger Index ranking of 102nd among 117 countries.
The lockdown undoubtedly turned out to be a human tragedy and millions of migrant workers left fleeing its shuttered cities and trekking home to their villages. These people form the backbone of the growing city economy, constructing houses, serving in eateries, cooking food, delivering takeaways, making automobiles, cutting hair in salons, plumbing toilets and delivering newspapers, among other things.
Escaping poverty in their villages, most of them aspire for a better life and upward mobility out of their congested living. Lockdown turned them into refugees overnight. Most employees and contractors who paid them vanished and their workplaces got shut.
But Kerala, a tiny south Indian state, records hardly a person to have gone hungry, thanks to the community kitchens which were opened in every nook and corner of the State. It was functioning for close to two months since the beginning of lockdown. This is a brilliant example of the dividends of social capital in Kerala.
The community kitchens in Kerala function mainly with the kudumbasree (Women’s Self Help Group) workers and ASHA workers work under the supervision of local self-governments. They have been serving food for free three times daily to the indigent who cannot get enough supplies for a meal, the bed-ridden who cannot move out of their homes and senior citizens who have no one to buy the supplies.
With the severe economic damage online with locust invasion, skyrocketed food and nutrition insecurity, high unemployment among vulnerable sections and with reported migrant deaths and above all the disinformation amid the pandemic playing a wild card, there existed tangible dilemma for migrant workers to be starving in the city or continue to be malnourished in their home villages.
The community kitchens became a relief to thousands of migrant workers, who live scattered in various places. Kudumbashree workers, school mid-day meal cooks, local body officials and volunteers had worked tirelessly from 5.30 a.m to 7 p.m to keep these running.
The two-month period also witnessed the society as a whole pitching in to keep these kitchens running. Several individuals and organizations came forward to contribute in cash and kind to these kitchens.
In April, the State government, in an effort to reduce the strain on the local bodies, announced the opening of more Janakeeya restaurants, providing affordable meal parcels at Rs.25 and had proposed opening of 1000 such restaurants across the State by Onam(harvest festival of Kerala).
Members of several NGOs and youth organizations formed in groups and were assigned areas to work upon. “Our group was assigned the task of contacting and collecting food from houses which were willing to provide foods to the helpless and needy and we acted as facilitators to make it available to the fishermen community who were hunger-stricken and financially down during the time of lockdown”, a volunteer shared.
Food supplies were available to the group from shops who distributed their not sold stocks and rice, wheat etc. There was sponsoring from shopkeepers and club associations in different localities. The scheme was properly planned and execution went good enough from the initial run itself.
Plan within the split areas had the division of labour e.g cooking mainly done by kudumbasree members and packaging and distribution done by people of catering sectors and other volunteers. People like ward members and MLAs of the areas made supervision and constant check upon the same looking after the feedbacks and bringing about necessary changes and improvements. Funding from various entrepreneurs and locals helped to ease work and a person was made as the treasury to manage the financial dealings in each divided locality.
Once the economy opened again with necessary commodities being available, community kitchens were aided with few from fishermen community and they took out distribution side with their fish baskets in hand. There were food distributions in health centres and other labour houses as well.
Team spirit held with compassion and empathy served as the fuel for driving the mission of none starving amidst the pandemic.