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Why Nutrition Levels In Children Are Declining Even As Harvest Is Increasing


Food security refers to availability, affordability and accessibility of food. However, the latest NFHS shows a different story. One can infer disproportionality in affordability and accessibility of food. The famine of Bengal in 1943 was the most devastating famine that occurred in India killing thirty lakh people in the province of Bengal. Nothing like the Bengal Famine has happened in India again. But even today, there are famine-like conditions in places such as Kalahandi and Kashipur (Orissa), and reports of starvation deaths in Baran district of Rajasthan, Palamau district of Jharkhand and other remote areas of India, despite tremendous increase in agricultural production in the country.

Even today, there are famine-like conditions in places such as Kalahandi and Kashipur (Orissa). Representational image.

Hunger is not just the result of poverty, it leads to poverty as well. Hunger and poverty are interlinked concepts. On one hand, the inaccessibility and unaffordability of food due to poverty leads to hunger, and on the other hand, being hungry (undernourished) makes the person unhealthy enough to prevent them from taking up jobs or being unsuccessful at their job — thus falling into the trap of poverty. While the poor face food insecurity on a perennial basis, people above the poverty line face it only during natural calamity. Social composition along with the inability to buy food also plays a key role in food insecurity.

Decline In Nutritional levels Among Children

The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) showed nutritional levels among children in India worsened over the last five years. Of the 22 states and Union Territories (UTs), 18 recorded a rise in the percentage of children (under five years) who are stunted, wasted and underweight compared with 2015-16, reversing the gains achieved before. This data is alarming as the survey was done before the pandemic. Post the pandemic, one can imagine the further deterioration in  food security conditions.

The WHO described stunting is a marker of inequalities in human development. India drops two ranks in Human Development Index 2020, standing at 131 out of 189 countries. According to a World Bank 2019 report, India has the second highest number of stunted children in South Asia (at 38%), after Afghanistan (41%). Wasting is highest in India at 21%, followed by Sri Lanka at 15% and Bangladesh at 14%, the report said.

India already has a poor score on the global hunger index – ranking just above 13 countries out of a total of 107, including North Korea, Haiti and Afghanistan among others.  The Wire reported, “According to a ‘Hunger Watch’ survey, the hunger situation remains grave among the marginalized and vulnerable communities in as many as 11 states even five months after the lockdown has ended, with a large number of families going to bed without food.” Let alone nutritional food, marginalised people in India can’t even afford food.

Programmes Of Food Security 

The attainment of food security requires eliminating current hunger and reducing the risks of future hunger. The government has initiated programmes and policies to ensure food security. It maintains buffer stocks after buying grains from farmers at minimum support price and ensures its distribution through schemes like Public Distribution System, midday meal scheme, Integrated Child Development Services, Poshan Abhiyaan.

However the distribution fell flat during the pandemic. The ASHA, also called anganwadi workers, have been protesting in different parts of the country over issues of underpayments and PPE kits. These women were frontline workers in fighting the pandemic. They are critical components for the maternal and child health care system in the country, playing an important role in the immunisation of children and thus ensuring a healthy future of our country. The ICDS programme needs to be prioritised and worked upon. 


Odisha’s Nutrition Budgeting

Odisha became the first state to introduce nutrition budgeting, an initiative to translate the commitment to increase nutrition level in a more targeted manner. There has been a jump from Rs 3,999 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 5,210 crore in 2020-21 budget for nutrition-specific schemes. In the same period, the budget for nutrition-sensitive schemes increased by almost 70% from Rs 13,880 crore to Rs 23,753 crore.

Odisha has been eulogised for its determination of implementing a range of progressive interventions in the domain of nutrition. Eggs and the decentralised procurement in Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) have been added along with efficient implementation of Mamata scheme (conditional cash transfer for pregnant and  lactating women), institutionalising the community-monitoring platforms among others (Shrivastava and Saigal, 2020). The budget for Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) saw an increase of almost 23%.


Our children are severely malnourished, despite an increase in harvest over years and targeted PDS. There are gaps and leakages that need to be worked upon. There is an utmost requirement to revamp the existing distribution system for ensuring a healthy India. The Central government and other state governments should learn from Odisha about nutrition-based budgeting and the effective policies for our healthy children and the healthy future of India.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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