Traditional diverse food systems can help solve malnutrition

Traditional diverse food systems can help solve malnutrition

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Worldwide, 2 billion people are affected by hidden hunger (micronutrient deficiency), of which 225 million (or 9%) are from India. There, 14.5% of the total population are undernourished, 21% of all children in the age group 0-5 suffer from wasting, 38.4% of all children in this age group range suffer from stunting, and 51.4% of women in the reproductive age-range suffer from anaemia. A comprehensive nutritional assessment of local, traditional food systems and diets of rural and indigenous communities in India was conducted. It found that structural inequalities due to unresolved land ownership issues and the embedded inequalities of caste, class, gender and geography have prevented access to resources (land, water, forests and the commons in general) that have led to serious malnutrition, chronic hunger and starvation.
Furthermore, economic liberalisation and associated trade policies have led to an increased corporate takeover of the food system. By framing the problem as one of nutritional composition rather than poverty, the food problem was viewed as a technical rather than a structural problem. India’s focus on a production-calorie strategy to eradicate hunger, starting with the Green Revolution, has intensified protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies by destroying local, traditional food systems. Solutions like supplementation and fortification of food are primarily top-down and uniform solutions that do not consider the political, cultural, economic and socio-ecological contexts of malnutrition. The industrial agricultural system has further reduced women to labour whereas traditionally, women are keepers of knowledge of food, nutrition and agriculture.
On the other hand, communities are a rich repository of knowledge around resilient food systems built on lived experience. Their food systems are nutritionally diverse and rich. Nutritional analyses of the communities’ diets show that their foods can meet and counter malnutrition including micro-nutrient malnutrition such as Vitamin A deficiency.
The communities and researchers involved in this study strongly assert that the way to comprehensively address macro and micronutrition deficiencies is to focus on nurturing diverse traditional food systems and the associated transgenerational knowledge system and its uses within the community. Integral to this strategy is ensuring that the voices of the people, including women, are heard, and addressing unequal land-ownership through self-governance by local communities.
– Third World Network

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