Let’s Do Poshan Par Charcha
Why in the end, the transformative mechanisms of community mobilisation can turn the tide in India’s battle against malnutrition
The Integrated Child Developement Services (ICDS) is basically a community-based programme and its success depends on active community participation. In ICDS, community participation is voluntary for the democratic involvement of elders, local and religious leaders, institutions and organisations. It includes community action and decision-making in planning, implementation and monitoring of the programme which leads to self-reliance, ownership and sustainability of the programme.
Why communities matter
Community mobilisation has always been the greatest treasure in delivering superior programmatic impacts. It has a long history in the Indian social development sector without which, the chances of successful outcomes in any programme is relatively miniscule. Informed communities are at a better position to engage and empower themselves in the decision making process and take actions to improve their lives and shape the future of their communities. Thus, when actions are enthused by the communities themselves, or by others through a participatory and sustained approach, it encourages a meaningful, civic and a constructive platform which enhances and influences the desired consequences of the programme.
Five strategies of Poshan
The Poshan Abhiyaan (National Nutrition Mission), the world’s largest nutrition programme launched by the Government of India on March 8, 2018, is based on five strategically thought out approaches, which are: convergence, community engagement, advocacy, partnerships and transmedia. Among these, the community engagement approach bases its strength on the homogeneous community groups and on existing platforms. These groups ranges from self-help groups, youth, adolescent and cultural groups to PRIs, various associations, social institutions etc.
Already existent groups and communities include ANMs, ASHAs under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; AWWs, Lady Supervisors, Swasth Preraks under the Ministry of Women and Child Development; Teachers under the Minstry of Human Resource Development; National Youth Corps (NYC), Bharat Scouts and Guides (BSG), National Service Scheme (NSS) under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports; National Cadet Corps (NCC) under the Minstry of Defence; National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare; Swachhagrahis under the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation; and Day-NRLM SHGs under the Ministry of Rural Development. In addition to these, there are members of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) or panchayat representatives; religious, cultural and social leaders; and civil society groups. The total human resources in these community groups make upto 2.86 crore personnel, who can deliver the services in the communities. Till date, these resources have been able to ensure participations exceeding two billion in Jan Andolan activities in the entire nation.
What communities can do
Since community engagement, or community mobilisation, is an integral approach of Poshan Abhiyaan, it relies heavily on the community groups to create a Jan Andolan on convergence and coordination, across all sectors impacting nutrition in the country, mobilisation and engagement of key actors and influencers, consumption of healthy and nutritious diet for all, and empowering families to promote and practice best physical and cognitive development of the children.
It is important for us to understand why community mobilisation has gained so much ground recently. The community based events (CBE) inscribed in Poshan Abhiyaan guidelines and the consequences of the CBEs carried out in the nation in the last year (2018) tells us that, the government can create an impetus with ease and that community mobilisation is the only real way out to create a true Jan Andolan for the nutrition empowerment of the country. Thus a lot depends on the government’s positive attitude towards addressing an issue, particularly those affecting the whole of the country.
Notably, these CBEs reach new heights during celebrations of the special days, weeks and months, like the World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August), National Nutrition Month (September) etc. The real deal is that a true and effective Jan Andolan is only possible when the CBEs are sustained through out the year with greater participation by the communities and that they are enriched by the contribution of all the sections of the community. The Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Day (VHSND) is a virtuous platform in the rural communities where, it can create imposing effects with better outputs, only if the VHSN Committee comprising of members of the Panchayat, Auxilary Nurse Midwives (ANM), Anganwadi Workers (AWW), Teachers, Community Health Workers, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and members of the Self Help Groups (SHG) is willing to take ownership of the issues and reluctant to work together. Also, VHSNDs have been strengthened to include the celebrations of ‘Poshan Melas so that it can help in reaching out to the communities to promote better health seeking behaviour.
Another important component of the Poshan Abhiyaan Jan Andolan is the Poshan Bhaagidari (partnerships) where elected representatives, local leaders, community gatekeepers, state/district officials are encouraged to participate in and monitor the CBEs. Their participation will influence and increase the participation of the communities, leverage local media and communication to create a momentum, and act as a union between the government and the programs. As we make progress, Poshan Abhiyaan, too, begins to see more innovative and informative activities supported by the government. This time, “Poshan Par Charcha" echoes dialogues across the nation in every household, while making progress from “Harr Ghar Poshan Tyohar” to “Chalo Apnaye Poshan Vyavhaar”. Here, the Panchayati Raj Institutions will play the most crucial role in delivering an effective “Charcha” on nutrition in the communities. To effectively execute the “Charcha,” the panchayats will initiate “Poshan Choupal” at the village level, where all the field functionaries and other local bodies are expected to participate. The government also suggests that one may also encourage the participation of celebrities, nutrition experts, academicians etc. to boost the discussions on nutrition at all levels.
A sense of ownership
Here, under the impression of Jan Bhaagidari (people’s participation), community ownership will be a key influence in mobilising and engaging the community, especially the parents in ensuring maternal and child health, and nutrition for development. As such, to increase people’s participation and communitisation, capacity building of influential members of the community on “dissemination of crucial information, and healthy beahaviours and practices” is essential. There are micro and meso community groups, such as the “Mothers Committee,” “Self Help Groups on Nutrition and Child Development,” “Panchayat Samitis” etc, which need to be sensitised on nutrition and dietary diversity to increase the impacts of Jan Andolan.
Moreover, improved access and utilisation of services within the VHSNDs as part of the participatory approach, can be ascribed to empowered community ownerships and the expanded roles of the members of the Panchayati Raj Institutions who can monitor the functioning and outcomes of the government programmes. Together with it, increased awareness of entitlements among poor households, especially women, for instance, by the distribution of entitlement cards listing the various health, nutrition and development programmes available and formation of “Mothers Committees” with devolved multifunctional responsibilities can work wonders in the promotion and achievements for a successful Jan Andolan.
Momentum of change
It is expected that the CBEs and activities will generate a greater momentum towards an obligatory Jan Andolan on nutrition; an Andolan, which was prolonged by at least one generation and an Andolan, which is expected to help India transit from a low-skilled job-based economy to a high-skilled knowledge-based economy. In the context of this transition, the country’s ever-growing workforce will have to possess superior cognitive skills and proficiencies, which will guide the socio-economic structure of the country in the near future. Here health and nutrition issues are most likely to take a significant toll on the ever growing human capital if such dire consequences are ignored in the present time.
Abdul Halim is a sociologist, social worker and public health professional with the Action Against Hunger India.
Mousumi Gupta is a social development professional, working as Director-Advocacy with Action Against Hunger India.)