Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, IndiaSuraj Kumar, Shubhasree Shankar, Nizni Hans
PRADAN, IndiaNivedita Narain, Shuvojit Chakraborty, Gautam Bisht, Arundhita Bhanjdeo, Atul Purty, Astha Upadhyay, Ayesha Pattnaik, Sushmita Dutta
Gram Vaani, IndiaSayonee Chatterjee, Vijay Sai, Sultan Ahmad, Shoaib Rahman, Ritesh Datta
School of International Development, UEANitya Rao
The Sustainable Food Systems sub-project of the Global Research Translation Award is addressing food and nutrition insecurity in India, a problem confronting a vast majority of women and children, especially in rural, indigenous communities.
Despite economic growth, India has some of the highest levels of food and nutrition insecurity in the world, with close to 40% of children under 5 stunted, and over 50% of women anaemic. There is an urgent need to upscale successful local innovations and best practices to address these issues.
The project partners are working with communities, especially women's groups, youth groups and students to generate and share knowledge on sustainable food systems, in particular production choices and technologies, diets and consumption practices, and their relationship to health and nutrition outcomes. Using a range of creative tools and strategies, partners and communities are generating digital content that will be shared at scale through an interactive, audio community media platform; supplemented by a mobile app for smartphone users, to provide 24-hour real-time response to community needs. Sustainability will be ensured through capacity-building of educational institutions, government functionaries and the wider public at multiple scales - local, regional, national and international.
The Sustainable Food Systems project is funded by the University of East Anglia's Global Research Translation Award (GRTA), a £1.36 million project to help tackle health, nutrition, education and environment issues in developing countries. The funding comes from the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which seeks to fast-track promising research findings into real-world solutions. The project partners are: Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), India; PRADAN, India; Gram Vaani, India; and the School of International Development, UEA, UK.
Sustainable Food Systems Blogs
Reflections on Working and Walking with the Youth of Chakai, India
Delving into the lens through which we typically categorize the youth of today, the author invites the youth of a community in rural India to consider fundamental questions that lie just beneath their everyday pre-occupations.
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere.
Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
How do people make sense of where they want to go and what they want to become? This question is at its acute best when we are young and still flirting with the infinite potential of what could be—of us and of the world that we inhabit. Different people have different degrees of privilege with this question; I, personally, had a very longish period to ponder upon this. When I went to Chakai (Bihar), where the events unfolded, I was pretty unperturbed by where things would lead. In this article, I reflect on my experience of engaging with young people from the rural milieu of Chakai, Bihar. The context of my engagement with the youth in Chakai is my MPhil research and a couple of developmental projects I undertook as part of PRADAN.
Young people, usually, are always at the centre of various ‘pulls’ from different institutions and social expectations, which consume their time and attention constantly. The primary and most legitimate social pull is from educational institutions, which in places like Chakai, is rather weak due to the dysfunctional status of the senior-level school and college education in the region. Most young people of the area belong to a community that is part of the subsistence economy. Therefore, another strong pull is towards domestic work. For some other young people, a strong pull is the cash-based, labour-intensive work in cities. Almost everyone, who has chosen education and is enrolled in the local college, is pulled towards grade-D government jobs. Chakai is a Naxal-affected zone; one of the marginal and declining attractions is to join the movement as well. A recent growing inclination is that which the popular media exercises on young people, manifested in indulging in fashion or following latest trends. There are more gender-specific and socio-cultural pulls too. Many young girls drop out of school by the time they complete Class 10 and wait to get married whereas many young boys have leisure time for exploration, including football, alcohol and going to nearby towns. The government too tries to encourage young people into taking some skill-based courses, with the intention of integrating them in the job market. Amidst all this is the NGO I represent, which tries to engage young people for community development projects and sometimes specifically for youth development.
Every young person, who dropped out from our project, has helped me realize the significance of shifting our perspective as and when needed. Young people need some space as much as they need some intimate mentorship; they seek self-serving pleasures as much as they love socially meaningful roles; they would love some stable source of money as much as they would like to unsettle some social norms.
The following is a framework that lays out five strategies of approaching the youth, the skeleton of which I have borrowed from Pravah (an organization with substantial experience in working with youth). These categories highlight some of the attractions of and deterrents to youth work. In practice, these are not mutually exclusive, and my own work has often taken all of these perspectives at different moments.
I - Youth as an Age Category
This invocation is often done with reference to an economist or resource-based view, in which India is often quoted as a young nation with an implication of higher productivity. Young people in Chakai are forced to take up the view of soon becoming economic contributors to their families.
II - Youth as Needing Protection
This approach considers youth to be at risk. This is a deficit conception, which paves the way for developmental interventions, to help youth overcome certain gaps. Many young people I met in Chakai articulated the feeling of being lost, not knowing what to do or were limited by socio-cultural conventions.
III - Youth as Problem-solver
This lens perceives youth has instrumental for solving social problems. For example, our main approach has been to engage young people in addressing the educational and nutritional problems of the community. Individual skill building becomes a consequence of this.
IV - Youth for youth’s sake
This lens focuses on the holistic self-development and transformation of young people. Individual aspirations and issues are the crux of this approach. This approach takes social development as instrumental for individual aspirations. This may take the form of youth collectives.
V - Youth as a Hedonistic Rebel
This is the pop culture categorization of young people, which paints them as subjects of pleasure, rebellion and transgression. This is when young people think that to be wild and free it is legitimate phase.
Let us look at examples to improve our understanding of each of these categories in the context of Chakai and the youth that we are working with.
I. Youth as an age category: Twenty-year-old Munna started a community learning centre in his own village, Kumbadi. He began taking classes for children. Four months later, he started staying away from group meetings and even became irregular with his classes. On probing, it emerged that he wanted to earn more money than with which the project could remunerate him. So, he migrated to take a job that gave him around Rs 12,000 per month. Even though he could feel a connection with the social role he had taken, the pressure to contribute financially to his family weighed heavy on him.
II. Youth as needing protection: When 16-year-old Sunita from Naiadih village started with us, she was a school drop-out. She had studied till Class 9. The reasons for this were that her parents had started to think about her marriage. She herself was not very clear about what more education will enable her to do. Over a period of time, however, with our project, she and her parents started appreciating the significance of educational skills. She re-enrolled in school and completed Class 10 last year. However, during the lockdown, her father took away her phone because she was talking to a boy. After we started operating remotely, she left the work and has not returned since.
III. Youth as a problem-solver: Seventeen-year-old Kavita from Govindpur is an exemplar of how young people can take up social challenges and end up developing many individual skills. Despite her young age, she holds public meetings with a lot of panache and villagers hold her in great respect for her active role in village affairs. Kavita plays a crucial role in several of our developmental projects and her energy is an inspiration for anyone around her.
IV. Youth for youth’s sake: Twenty-year-old Ashish from Bamdah just could not connect with the aims and values of our project. He joined us, initially, for the film-making training and showed great potential. Whereas the project required films on the local food, he was more interested in making vlogs on his bike adventures with his friends. Social change just did not make sense to him. I would say that we failed to retain him because we did not have the time to engage him on his own terms and he was less attuned to the culture of compliance.
V. Youth as a hedonistic rebel: Many people prioritize ‘leisure’ over anything else. Many young men would join us for very small periods and were subsequently drawn to the more popular attractions. NGO work can undoubtedly sound and feel very boring, moral and phony for people. At 18, I personally would have chosen to spend my time romanticizing about life rather than think about malnutrition.
When I started working on an educational project in 2018, my go-to option was the third lens. This is because, as an NGO, we often look forward to individuals taking up key roles in the implementation of developmental projects. We try to get them to start taking ownership of something that may not have quite originated in them. However, what worked best for us was that we took an aesthetic approach to the politics of community development. This placed culture and creative expression at the centre of how we engaged with young people. Within this, we tried to weave skills and platforms such as film-making, writing, theatre, social media, community radio and digital literacy, local festivals, cultural ethos, agriculture practices, knowledge of forests, food systems and community learning centres. In terms of social impact, the youth club managed to create multilingual learning material, libraries, school food garden, films on local food, and audio material for local interactive voice response system (IVRS) among several other things.
Over a period of time, my inclination for the first, second and fourth lens came as a pushback and a key learning from my failures. Every young person, who dropped out from our project, has helped me realize the significance of shifting our perspective as and when needed. Young people need some space as much as they need some intimate mentorship; they seek self-serving pleasures as much as they love socially meaningful roles; they would love some stable source of money as much as they would like to unsettle some social norms. Having a young, dynamic team in PRADAN helped us integrate these approaches with the local youth. My colleague, Shuvajit Chakarborty, insists on the value of generating local livelihoods and developing an entrepreneurial attitude. As an example of this, 21-year-old Motilal started his own seed nursery and 24-year-old Kusum ended up earning more money, making films in Chakai, than her brother, who had migrated to Bangalore. She recently bought a scooter for herself. In a life-map exercise, a typical lens 4 activity, Simon expressed his desire to learn advance computer skills. He is now all set to take up web design with one of our partners in the United States over zoom.
In 2015, when I went to Chakai for the first time, the SHG was the dominant infrastructure for engaging with the community. I somehow could not work directly with the SHG women, and many of the adult, male members had either migrated or were too busy. Thus, for my research, I ended up working with children and young people because they were the ones with some free time. Working with the youth started as nothing more than a happy accident. I was conducting a small writing workshop in Chakai with some of the local youth, which now operates under the name of Lahanti Club. On the last day of the workshop, I asked them, “So, what does it all mean? Where is this headed?” This gave way to some fundamental questions that often remain dormant due to their regular project activities. My question invoked questions such as, “Will being part of the club bring any kind of secure financial grounding for me? What is the vision of this club? What is my vision for my own life? Is there an overlap between the two? Why are cultural assertion and community development so important? What happens after this project ends?
Modular vision building exercises for the club or simple life maps for individuals do not convey the complexity and uncertainty of these questions. Thus, these questions are never really fully answered. As we work with young people, they are constantly animated by these questions at a tectonic level. The lack of clarity around where things are headed is not just limited to rural youth; it is something that often characterizes development projects themselves. No one is sure about the afterlife of developmental projects, and the instability of this ecosystem affects the professionals and the consultants working in the organization itself too. The facilitator and the facilitated are often in the same boat that may just go anywhere. This for me is the most challenging, ethical concern of working with young people in such contexts, reflected not only in our ability to walk together long enough but also in developing some clarity around our often-divergent destinations and their possible interconnections.
This blog was published on 1 July 2021, and was written by Gautam Bisht. Gautam is currently pursuing a PhD in learning science in the School of Education, Northwestern University, Illinois. He also works as a Consultant in PRADAN as well as in the CHIRAG project for curriculum development. Prior to this, he was leading the programming activities in the project, which aims at creating a democratic platform for the community to exchange relevant information on sustainable food systems. He is the co-founder of Sinchan, an Education and Rural Entrepreneurship Foundation. Gautam completed his Masters in Development Practice from Ambedkar University, Delhi.
First published on www.pradan.net/sampark on 11 February 2021.
“Who is the Boss of the Film?” An Exercise in Authorship
Creating films that have relevance and meaning for the local audience is essential to stimulate change in thinking and action. Choosing topics such as the traditional foods and recipes, and highlighting their nutritional value not only serves to revive dying practices but also inculcates pride in traditional practices and tribal customs
UEA Film-makers Christine Cornea and Alexandra Smith travelled to India in March 2020, to create a series of short films about food and nutrition for the CHIRAG research project; in the process, they trained local youth volunteers to make films. These films were to be used to support the development of a virtual knowledge centre, which was to be managed by the communities. The knowledge about food diversity and sustainable practices was to be shared and exchanged.
What is the CHIRAG project?
The CHIRAG project (Creative Hub for Innovation and Reciprocal Research and Action for Gender Equality) is funded by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), through the University of East Anglia’s (UEA’s) Global Research Translation Award (GRTA). The Indian research partners, PRADAN and Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), are working with communities in Chakai and Koraput, and Kandhamal to study their nutrition, health and well-being, and generate practical knowledge. This knowledge is to be shared via an innovative digital hub, called CHIRAGVaani, through video podcasts, articles, interviews, films and other tools.
When the CHIRAG project trained tribal youth to use digital video cameras in 2020, it did it with the purpose of documenting traditional food practices.
However, a year down the line, there has been a welcome spin-off not fully anticipated. The digital camera in the hands of the youth has not only inculcated a sense of agency, an authorship, a romance with the power of technology but also generated, by default, an interest and stake in their traditional knowledge systems; it has stimulated the potential of making traditional foods an aspirational goal again.
The politics of representational technology and the power of image-making has a huge potential. The project deployed younger people to document the knowledge and skills of their elders; this could validate and legitimize traditional knowledge and its knowledge keepers in a way that paper documentation has and does not. However, before they did that, they needed to address one matter.
They had to tell the story of the traditional recipes made of produce foraged from the forests; a skill that had been passed down generations and was now in danger of being lost. Although they had uploaded their films on YouTube, something seemed amiss. The films did not have the stamp of their authorship. Additionally, they had to learn how to tell the story, and to do that, they needed to decide who their audience was. To explore this and support the youth, I, in my capacity as a film-maker, joined the PRADAN and KISS teams in several sessions of mutual learning and exciting discussions, spread over three months, in early 2021.
Sculpting the story
The task was, in the words of the CHIRAG team, to “identify the boss of the film,” the primary audience, the people who would watch the film.
There was no other way to learn except to create, test, pilot, test, evolve, question presumptions and learn from peers. Furthermore, it involved identifying local film critics and understanding what they thought of the films made by the local youth.
Some other guiding questions for the team were: How can we get honest feedback? How can we ensure that the trial audiences do not second guess and only tell us what they think we would like to hear? Are we/they trying to fit into what is the conventional notion of films?
There was no shortcut. It meant editing various versions of the product, testing and coming back for discussions with the feedback.
Two of the salient points of the discussion were:
- We needed to build a storyline that would remind the target audience, be it the tribal community or any other audience, not to forget who they are and to value our food culture that has sustained humanity for millennia.
- We needed to find the right music: the opening and closing of the films needed to have catchy signature tunes—contextual albeit varied—by finding local Santhali/Kui talent.
The next question was what to do when the given reality does not fall into neat demarcations, to support our intentions; when some things conflict with our objectives and principles? We needed to take some decisions at the time of the shooting and others at the time of editing, regarding such apparent conflicts.
The teams were asked to watch The Women Betrayed, a film about how two tribal groups dealt with the question of witch-hunting and to observe how some of these difficult questions were answered in the film.
Traditional practices around food often involved strictures on the inclusion, or participation, of women and girls. We were faced with such a situation during Sohrai, an especially important annual harvest festival of the Santhals.
The CHIRAG team was heavily invested in the festival and decided to make its pilot film about it. After many unsuccessful attempts in finding an editor, the PRADAN team decided to learn editing themselves. Atul, the project anchor based in Chakai, edited the first draft of the film on the traditional food prepared during Sohrai. It was then that we discovered that women and girls cooked the food but were not permitted to eat it. This was in direct conflict with our objective of ensuring gender sensitive and reciprocal knowledge production and exchange. We decided to shelve this film because it would send a wrong message and/or make the issue confrontational.
However, the film was edited quite well by Atul and, therefore, served as a useful exercise and fulfilled the purpose of giving the PRADAN team confidence about their proficiency in editing.
Banwar peetha, or a recipe made of banwar (field rats) mixed with wheat flour was then selected as the next subject for creating a pilot film, which would also act as a template for future films, for the PRADAN team. Here too, a similar gender differentiation surfaced. Only men/boys were permitted to hunt for and eat banwar. We decided to tackle this issue differently. We put it as a question at the end of the film: Why not encourage girls and women too to partake in the consumption of this protein-rich food?
The KISS team, however, arrived at the decision to make a film on red ants because there was great footage available, and it had intrinsic value with the men cooking and women and girls also consuming it:
Between voice-overs and written text
We agreed that the first cut of the film would primarily be for the tribal audience. We, therefore, decided that all the important information, including the names of the people speaking, would be voiced rather than shown as text. The written text on the screen would be an option. This was to be able to reach a larger audience, many of who were unlettered.
A quick edit became the starting point for understanding the voice-over and its politics. There were several discussions about whether the voice-over is perceived as heavy and authoritative or warm and friendly. Several examples were considered. What is the power relationship between the people in the film and the audience? Should it be like a conversation and or a preacher’s monologue?
Despite the difficulty of the editor having to leave mid-way, the KISS team still managed to produce two versions to experiment with the possibilities of voice-over as dialogue and as storytelling in the voice of an elder or friend.
Language of the Film
English, Hindi, Odiya, Santhali or Kui?
Knowing that we were dealing with multiple languages and diverse groups, this decision as to what language will the film be made in had to be taken carefully, based on the range of the audience. Santhali was chosen as the language of the film by the PRADAN team whereas street Odiya was considered appropriate by KISS. The Kui group was considered too small a language group to be a viable audience group although the film was shot in an area where Kui was spoken. In addition, we made an important decision to use English terms such as protein, calcium and vitamins for ease and also because we wanted some of these terms to find place in the local parlance.
Using the spoken word to cross the literacy barrier
The opening montage of the film has a spoken introduction about CHIRAG, which serves as a short preface. It also introduces the title of the film.
Similarly, the team decided that the closing credits would be read aloud too, at least the names of those people and places that would be recognized by the local audience such as the youth volunteer who shot the film, the village location, the people who supported production, the local musicians and the people in the film. This helped the unlettered audience to identify the local people, who were part of the production and had helped author it. This was followed by the normal credit roll that included the rest of the technical credits.
The team accepted the two important suggestions emanating from the collective GRTA meeting in March 2021. First, it was decided that the issue of unhealthy ingredients such as refined flour and sugar, which have found their way into traditional recipes, would be highlighted. Information about this would be included in the voice-over, which would end as a question to the audience. Second, value was found in including the traditional recipes on the screen because the ingredients that go into a dish are fairly unconventional. A recipe slide was incorporated to show both the ingredients and its nutritional value.
Subtitling makes the films accessible to all, without losing their ground; they make the films more universal. Decisions regarding subtitles and name tags and their relative importance to varied audiences became strategic decisions because these decide the centrality of the audience and how to cater to them.
The team was also trained in the principles of subtitle creation and rendition, such as condensing the text without disturbing the visual flow. The two films, Banwar Peetha and Red Ant are now featured on the Table-to-farm videos map, created by Youth Alliance for Zero Hunger, in line with the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.
This blog was published on 9 June 2021 and written by Sehjo Singh, an independent film-maker for more than 20 years, and an advisor for on Project CHIRAG. Sehjo's films examine critical issues of land struggle and the right to education, trying to find newer and different ways of connecting social movement and society. She served as Executive Director, National Centre for Advocacy Studies, and later as the Director, Programmes and Policy, for ActionAid India. She served as Mission Specialist for Industree Foundation and International Trade centre, Ethiopia, Africa.
Using an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) to share knowledge about dietary diversity
The Sustainable Food Systems project is working with community groups in two rural locations in India. At each location, one of the key methods of community engagement is an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS). This blog explores what an IVRS is, and how the project is using it to share knowledge about dietary diversity.
What is an IVRS?
An Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) is a media platform for social development, where people call a free number and interact with a range of audio resources. It is particularly useful in remote rural areas with high levels of illiteracy. The system can be used to share studio-generated content (SGC), e.g. podcasts, interviews (with experts), plays and songs, and also to collect and share user-generated content (UGC) from the community members themselves, e.g. comments, concerns, grievances, recipes, songs, stories.
How does an IVRS work?
An IVRS is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through a free phone number with a simple mobile phone handset. Figure 1 outlines how an IVRS works. When a user calls, they immediately receive a call back with an automated greeting and an audio content menu. The user can select an audio content option from the menu by pressing a button on their phone, listen, and interact by recording a comment. The user can also record their own audio and submit it for moderation. Before this user-generated content is published, a moderator must check and authorise it. Once published, the user’s audio is added to the menu.
Using the IVRS for sustainable food systems research
An IVRS is an ideal way to share understanding about nutrition and health to tribal communities who often are beyond the reach of typical social development projects or literature. The Sustainable Food Systems project works with social development partners PRADAN in Bihar and Jharkhand states and KISS in Odisha state. The third partner, Gram Vaani, is a social tech company that works to set up community media platforms. During 2020, these partners worked through the implementation process (Figure 2) with their communities and both locations now have an operational IVRS.
The partners have created content about local foods, production techniques, traditional recipes and health and nutrition information. They have also co-produced content with the community through creative practices like theatre groups, kitchen gardens and participatory films. In addition, many community members have submitted their own content about local foods, recipes and indigenous knowledge. These diverse content types provide a rich resource for community learning and knowledge sharing, bespoke to the local area and from a trusted system with moderation and monitoring.
Who is using the IVRS?
The IVRS in Chakai, Bihar launched in April 2020. Between July 2020 and March 2021, it has received 22,652 calls from 5,917 callers with an average call duration of 5 minutes. 54% of users are women and 34% male (remainder did not disclose). The team are pleased to see men engaging with typically female subjects such as food, recipes, cooking; some men have even recorded recipes, which is revolutionary in a location like this. 40% of users are 19-25 years old, demonstrating that young people are engaging with indigenous knowledge from older members of the community. 61% of users are from tribal communities, which reinforces the need to have content in the local Santhali language, and the team have subsequently created a specific Santhali channel. Community members have submitted 220 pieces of content themselves since July 2020, indicating they are taking ownership of the system which was designed for them and with them.
A tool for knowledge sharing and evaluation
The system provides a valuable opportunity to measure impact and learning, particularly through surveys around specific information campaigns. A campaign goes beyond simple broadcasts of different information on the platform and engages listeners in a focussed manner. PRADAN’s winter campaign series called Phulon Ki Tokri ran from January to mid-April 2021 covering topics of local and seasonal foods, dietary diversity and nutrition. The average listening duration across the six episodes produced by the team was 7 hours. By running surveys to determine community knowledge before and after the campaign, the partners can measure the effectiveness of their messaging, more specifically, shifts in their knowledge and attitudes. The partners encourage participation in IVRS quizzes by offering incentives such as free minutes on phone networks.
Utilising IVRS in the pandemic
The IVRS in Bihar and Jharkhand states was launched just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The team could therefore use the IVRS to share information about social distancing, hygiene advice and travel restrictions and counter fake news that was circulating. These remote communities were able to share their concerns and ask questions through the IVRS. Migrant workers stranded in different states without access to food, work or accommodation in the lockdown were able to use the IVRS to seek help and redress grievances. You can find out more about this in the publication Destinations matter: Social policy and migrant workers in the times of Covid and in the article How interactive audio helped migrants during lockdown. As this blog is published India is in the midst of a second wave of COVID-19, and the teams are using the IVRS to help again.
Capacity building through the IVRS
A key component of a successful IVRS is recruiting a group of community mentors to become champions and moderators of the system. The project partners provide training to these mentors, helping them to create content, to promote the system amongst their families and friends, and teaching them how to moderate and manage the content items submitted by callers. In Bihar, a group of young people have become a strong cadre of local champions trained to moderate the IVRS; they are the social infrastructure essential for the system to function effectively and to become self-sustaining. They took on leadership roles very quickly as the COVID-19 lockdown restricted fieldwork from the project partner teams, even recording audio lessons for children to access through the IVRS whilst schools were closed (Figure 3). These community mentors are paid a stipend for the content they create and the moderation and promotion responsibilities they have.
To complement the IVRS in these communities, Gram Vaani is developing a smart phone app to provide a similar service to those members of the communities who have smart phones and are more likely to engage with visual and video media than audio content. This will run side by side with the IVRS, sharing content where possible.
Blog written by Hannah Gray, GRTA Project Officer at University of East Anglia, UK on 6 May 2021, with information provided by Sayonee Chatterjee, Gram Vaani and Arundhita Bhanjdeo, PRADAN.
Challenges in Designing a Culturally Responsive Curriculum
This article explores the necessity, scope and issues related to developing a culturally integrated curriculum for rural areas, bringing what is taught in schools closer to social life.
If PRADAN were to run a rural school, what would it look like? Perhaps, it would be a school that would have the ‘rural’ at the centre of its curriculum. It would be a school where children are apprentices, who move towards expertise in community practices through sustained engagement—practices directly related to the needs, aspirations and culture of the community. To say the least, it would be a dream come true for a section of educators, who always insisted that schools are alienated from social life. Under the GRTA-CHIRAG1 project, we are engaging with a part of the above dream, by designing a culturally responsive curriculum on sustainable food systems. This article outlines details of this endeavour and the challenges we face.
Any curriculum is placed within a broad set of questions and assumptions—around students/learners, their context, pedagogy, assessments and a philosophy of education reflected through desirable outcomes. A curriculum broadly entails designing a totality of a learner’s experience within an educational process. The starting point of the curriculum designed by us in the CHIRAG project is the gap between school learning and community life, specific to the subject domain of health, food and environmental science in the rural Santhal context of south Bihar. Not only school textbooks but also development agencies often fail to integrate their programmes on health and food sustainability with what is referred to by concepts such as ‘indigenous’, ‘local’, ‘traditional’, ‘cultural’ or ‘community knowledge’. Here, I use these terms interchangeably.
The CHIRAG project works with the belief that community knowledge on food and health can play a crucial role in responding to the health crisis in the region. Building on that belief, the needs of this curriculum within our project are twofold—one, to ensure an intergenerational transfer of knowledge around food and health undergoing rapid devaluation; and second, to demonstrate that national learning outcomes can be effectively met by leveraging a culturally responsive curriculum.
Not only school textbooks but also development agencies often fail to integrate their programmes on health and food sustainability with what is referred to by concepts such as ‘indigenous’, ‘local’, ‘traditional’, ‘cultural’ or ‘community knowledge’.
As outsiders to the community, the first challenge for us is in recognizing and accessing what we call community knowledge. What are those practices, values and dispositions that will potentially build into a curriculum at the intersection of health, environment and cultural identity? The task demands a close interaction and relationship with local life, and thus community participation is the basic principle of such a curriculum. Lahanti Club, a local youth collective that works with a socio-cultural perspective to education in out-of-school community learning centres, has taken the lead on this. They have worked as community anthropologists, occupying a liminal space, to bring out elements of knowledge and cultural dispositions on food systems through creative mediums such as short films, IVRS audios, theatre and group discussions. We, in CHIRAG, have tried to meticulously document the processes of this knowledge production in which Lahanti and self-help groups have participated. This process documentation is a key input to curriculum development. Important also to mention here is that this whole transaction potentially works like Chinese whispers; much of the vitality of this knowledge system runs the risk of being lost in translation. Moreover, as we do this, we must acknowledge the problematic history of knowledge extraction from rural indigenous communities.
The second challenge that we face is organizing the ‘raw’ version of data from process documentation into a structured curriculum. For school, our curriculum must speak directly to the existing school textbooks. Hence, to ensure collaboration between schools, communities, NGOs and research institutes, we are mapping our curriculum with established standards as laid down in the learning outcomes NCERT (2017–18). For the Lahanti Club learning centres, the curriculum can be more expansive and organic. It may also touch upon issues of identity and belonging, in ways that lie outside the learning outcomes discourse. Another significant challenge is to build this curriculum such that it appeals to the interest and capacities of children. This means further subdividing the curriculum activities as per the age-group of children. With the youngest ones, we may have to rely mostly on stories, games and activities such as forest excursions. With slightly older students, we can have components of reflective discussions. We are also confronted with a difference in epistemologies: whereas community knowledge is majorly embodied, culturally rooted and immersive in nature, the epistemology usually associated with formal schools are positivist, in which the knower and the known is distinct. This leads us to a third challenge of boundaries of the nature of delivery: who will facilitate this curriculum, where and how?
This dimension of delivery is when most grand ideas may fall flat or even the most basic ones may become profound. The potential candidates for the delivery of this curriculum are Lahanti Club members and government school teachers. Most government school teachers in the region currently come from non-Santhal backgrounds. For school teachers to undertake an activity like ‘foraging’ would entail a lot of (un)learning, learning and appreciating local diverse knowledge and perspectives. Such pedagogy can also reverse the power dynamics between the student and the teacher. The challenge facing the Lahanti Club members is that they may understand the local context and content of the culturally responsive curriculum but they are not professionally trained as teachers. For them to teach would entail learning to navigate between the text and the contextual curriculum. Both these groups will require slightly different orientation and inherent motivation to make this curriculum meaningful. This will throw the ball right back at us in figuring out this orientation itself.
For school teachers to undertake an activity like ‘foraging’ would entail a lot of (un)learning, learning and appreciating local diverse knowledge and perspectives. Such pedagogy can also reverse the power dynamics between the student and the teacher.
I want to conclude with a larger challenge that confronts us in the form of the decline of indigenous and contextually relevant knowledge systems. There is a social and a material aspect to this decline and both reinforce each other. At a social level, this knowledge is rendered undesirable. The symbolic inclusion of ‘cultural knowledge’, such as in blogs or in films, can at best initiate a counter discourse and at worst be another activity at ex-situ conversation or museumization. Cultural knowledge is deeply tied with material conditions in which it is kept alive and remains relevant. For many villages in Chakai, ‘forests’ have disappeared, agriculture production, housing systems, market access all have changed the material infrastructure of village life. Approximately 2.3 million sq km of forest cover was lost due to human and natural causes between 2000 and 2012 globally. Culturally responsive curriculum can redesign desire and imagine different futures only if the material condition of this knowledge thrives. One example of such an approach is community-led, forest-restoration projects, which brings us to the radical question of ‘jal, jungle and jameen’! (A revolutionary slogan meaning 'Land, water and forest!' adopted by tribal communities seeking autonomy over their natural resources). Perhaps, an educational dream in one paradigm translates to a nightmare in another.
1CHIRAG: Creative Hub for Innovation & Reciprocal Research & Action for Gender Equality
This blog was written by Gautam Bisht, a PhD student and consultant at PRADAN and first published on Sampark.net on 21 November 2020. This version was edited by Elettra Spadola, GRTA Project Administrator, UEA on 11 December 2020.
Local Food: The Future of Indian Village Economies
The COVID pandemic has brought about an unexpected realization among Indian villagers where the GRTA project partners PRADAN are working - the value of their traditional food items and practices, which are resilient, sustainable and can be relied upon to help them live through any crisis.
This article is based on two years of my ‘field immersion’ in a village in Chakai, Bihar. Chakai block is in Jamui district in southern Bihar and is predominantly occupied by Santhali tribals. After almost two years in Chakai, I see a new notion of economy emerging in the area.
When speaking about village economy, I do not mean the mere selling of goods and labour in the market but a whole range of activities in which a community participates. The ‘eco’ in economy comes from the Greek root ‘oikos’, meaning ‘home’ or ‘habitat’. The ‘nomy’ comes from ‘nomos’, meaning ‘management’. In this understanding, economy is not detached from ecology; it refers to the enduring management and negotiation of human and non-human ecological relations of sustenance. This concept of economy is somewhat different from the concept of economy used nowadays on television and in newspapers, which measures economic well-being in terms of GDP, GNP, global business, etc. Such measurements became the globally accepted meaning of economy, and have greatly affected tribal economy. In Chakai, the concept of economy shifted from self-sufficiency to market production, labour exportation and global consumption. Rather than production for their own well-being, people want to produce their products for distant, global markets.
How the Market has Influenced Economy
During my stay in Chakai, I saw many men from the villages migrating for work to urban areas. The youth of the village are very keen to migrate to bigger cities to earn money. A common narrative or reason behind this that I heard from them was
“Gaon me kaam nahin hai (There is no work in the village)”
Another thing I noticed was that whenever I asked any person who had not migrated about what they do, I heard them saying “Ghar par hi hain; abhi to kuch nahin karte hain (I stay at home only; I don’t do anything)”.
Women in the village also shared similar thoughts on staying home and “doing nothing.” During a discussion with self-help group members, participants said, "Factories should be set up in the farmlands and people will work and earn money here; anyway, there is no earning in agriculture.”
Food consumption habits have changed a lot as well. Tribal people do not want to consume their own traditional local food and continuously devalue their own rich, diverse food system, which includes various varieties of rice, millets, pulses and uncultivable food products.
'Work’ is now limited to the selling of labour in the market, and labour that can’t be sold in the market holds no value in the community. The question that arises here is what is the value of the vast range of other activities people put their labour into such as animal care, housework, cooking, working on one’s own farm and kitchen garden, foraging, and collecting non-timber forest products. Are these activities not responsible for ‘managing the home and habitat’? If the answer to this question is yes, why is it then not considered work?
The changing notion of economy has also impacted food production and consumption. Munna Hasda from Barmasia village now does not want to do traditional cultivation. He says, “We are not able to take the products that we produce here to the market. We don’t have the proper channel or knowledge of that. So, nowadays, we do not focus on farming activities. Working outside the village is a better option for us.” Notions of production are being limited to only those products that can be sold in market bypassing locally grown and available items such as different traditional tribal crops such as various millets, fresh vegetables from the kitchen garden, foraged food products and non-timber forest products.
Food consumption habits have changed a lot as well. Tribal people do not want to consume their own traditional local food and continuously devalue their own rich, diverse food system, which includes various varieties of rice, millets, pulses and uncultivable food products such as different kinds of yam, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables and local fruits, which grow in the forest. Villagers want to give up these food practices and adopt urban practices.
At a meeting PRADAN held, when the facilitator asked the villagers about the different seasonal food they consumed, villagers avoided talking about their traditional food. When one of them spoke about ‘guddu’ (a species of rat), the other villagers murmured to each other, “We should not speak about these things; he (the facilitator) will feel awkward.” A village elder said, “When I was in school, my family was so poor, I never ate wheat chapati. We used to eat finger millets and maize. My children, however, never faced that situation.” Wheat and white polished rice, brought from thousands of miles away, is considered the standard food whereas locally obtained food is now being regarded as inferior. The market has become the leading principle for guiding individual and collective action.
Returning to the Old Economy
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the non-resilience of this economy and has showed how traditional lifestyles are far more sustainable. During the national lockdown, supply chains were disrupted, and migrant workers eventually returned to their villages.
Owing to the lockdown, I continued my interactions with some of the villagers through phone calls and discussions on online platforms. The villagers told me because the markets were shut down, they chose to fall back on their traditional foods. They engaged their labour in traditional practices such as hunting and collecting uncultivable food items from the forest. They worked in their kitchen gardens and farms.
The local communities realized that there are more resilient and sustainable alternatives beyond the globalized and market-driven food economy. These needed be to be identified and developed. The crisis highlights the unsustainability of our current economic system and the need to deliberate different ways of organizing our societies. An alternative political-economic system is required, one that is more resilient, just and explicitly prioritizes human and non-human well-being over the market-driven economy.
The GRTA project, known in India as CHIRAG1, is working with and supporting Lahanti Club, a collective of young people from the Santhali tribe in Bihar, in making films about traditional foods foraged from the forests. During the lockdown, we also conducted an online photography contest with the members of Lahanti Club. In this online contest, the photographs of 19 different non-cultivable food products were submitted by the villagers. Afterwards, people shared their thoughts on the whole process. Kavita Marandi, one of the youth from Lahanti, said, “Local hatia (markets) are closed but we do not lack vegetables because there are many things in and around the village and forest that we can eat.” Pooja Hembrom said
“We were not even aware of these food items before the lockdown; we realize now that these food items are tastier and safer also.”
Motilal said, “We don’t need food from the market; we have everything we need here.” Lahanti Club’s YouTube channel is gradually becoming a repository of a variety of foraged foods, capturing the whole process beginning from collection of the food, preparation, cooking, eating and highlighting the nutritional benefits.
When the national lockdown was lifted, my colleague Shuvajit and I organized a food mela, or festival, in Pachuadih village in Chakai. This event was a part of the GRTA-CHIRAG project, focused on sustainable food systems. The community displayed the local Santhali food in the mela; there were around 12 different food recipes in the food mela.
The 12 food items in the image above are local rice, papaya curry, munga ara, kundri ki sabzi, mix local mushroom, ghangra beans, kurthi daal, kanthe ara, kendu ara, rote ara chutney, pudina chutney and gandhari ara.
Participants said, “Other than salt and masala, we didn’t buy anything from the market for this event.” They acknowledged that they survived because of the local foods and that, during the lockdown, the consumption of the local and forest food has increased.
The local communities realized that there are more resilient and sustainable alternatives beyond the globalized and market-driven food economy. These needed be to be identified and developed. The crisis highlights the unsustainability of our current economic system and the need to deliberate different ways of organizing our societies. An alternative political-economic system is required, one that is more resilient, just and explicitly prioritizes human and non-human well-being over the market-driven economy.
1CHIRAG: Creative Hub for Innovation & Reciprocal Research & Action for Gender Equality
This blog was written by Atul Purty, a Research Associate at PRADAN and first published on Sampark.net on 21 November 2020. This version edited by Hannah Gray, GRTA Project Officer on 10 December 2020.
Food Security Experiences from Odisha, India during the Covid-19 pandemic
Most people in India spend a significant proportion of their income on food. Many poor people depend on government subsidized rations for their food through the Public Distribution System (PDS), which protects them from rising food costs. The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of this safety net, but also highlighted how some people are excluded, particularly migrant workers moving between States.
The Public Distribution System (PDS) in India is one of the largest distribution networks of its kind in the world, providing nearly 800 million people with subsidized grain through a network of over half a million Fair Price Shops1. The Central and State Governments work in tandem to provide the essential household supplies including wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene as part of the PDS. Figure 1 describes the functioning of PDS in India, and Table 1 shows the chronology of PDS in India.
|1960s||PDS started during the war period to meet the critical food shortages of the 1960s. It was instrumental in containing the effects of rising food prices to enable urban consumers to access food.|
|1970s 1980s||The Agriculture Prices Commission (APC) and Food Corporation of India (FCI) was set up, aimed at improving domestic procurement and storage of food grain for PDS. It became a universal scheme for the distribution of subsidised food.|
|1990s||The Revised Public Distribution System (RPDS) was launched, aiming to strengthen and streamline PDS to enable it to reach people in far flung, hilly and inaccessible areas, and to target the most vulnerable population through programmes like Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP), Integrated Tribal Development Projects (ITDP), Desert Development Programme (DDP) and Designated Hill Areas (DHA). Efforts were made in terms of infrastructure, distribution outlets, etc. to reach most needy. This led to the launch of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in 1997, with a focus on the poor. It aimed to provide subsidised food and fuel to the poor through a network of ration shops.|
|2000 onwards||In 2013, when Parliament enacted the National Food Security Act, it aimed at utilizing the existing TPDS to deliver food grains as legal entitlements to the listed beneficiaries. The Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) was launched in 2000 with the aim of reducing hunger amongst poorest of the poor sections of the population below the poverty line (BPL).|
Covid-19 pandemic and PDS
With the Covid-19 pandemic raging around the globe, the gaps in various policies and programmes, including the governance structure, have come to the fore. The PDS system has its fair share of ups and downs. Significant downsides include not being able to account for the mobile migrant population and structural shortcomings of the system.
People who leave their native state and cross into a different state to work lose access to PDS benefits. This created a hurdle for a very large proportion of the migrant population when the Covid-19 lockdown was announced. The central Government responded with a raft of measures to tackle the crisis, for example:
• All people covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 to get an additional 5 kg of food grains and 1 kg of pulses per household (under the new Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana scheme).
• States and Union Territories have been allowed to take food grains for 3 months in advance from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) on credit.
• Some state governments took the initiative to provide dry rations to eligible beneficiaries.
Although the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 should cover 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population, some of the structural shortcomings were exposed during the pandemic. The targeting mechanism for identification of eligible beneficiaries was flawed, and the lack of a ‘One Nation One Card’ component that could have addressed the issue of availing of food grains in any part of the country (especially by the migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic).
Experiences from Koraput and Kandhamal districts in Odisha
Though the state government of Odisha had initially estimated that not more than 500,000 migrant workers will register themselves to return to Odisha, around 482,000 people registered themselves in a span of 2 days to return to the state. The actual estimate of people who came back to the state is much higher as the state has around 2,000,000 seasonal migrants. Despite all the structural difficulties, PDS has played an important role in addressing food insecurity concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic for the target population being able to avail the benefits.
- Ramesh Pujari, a farmer from Asana village in the Koraput district of Odisha says, through the village level delivery service, ration card holders got a free ration of rice along with 3 kg red gram and Rs. 1,000 from government. This was helpful for them to manage during the strict lockdown of 21 days. He urges that pulses, cooking oil and other essential food items should also be provided at a fair price to improve the nutritional inadequacy prevailing in rural areas. He expressed the need for inspections by authorities to put a check on the fraudulent ghost cards.
- Kuntalata Pujari, 36, a community worker (Anganwadi) was tirelessly involved in the Covid-19 response work in her village to update the Government’s Health department. She says that PDS has certainly taken care of the hunger needs of many people. She also added that implementation of a nation-wide ration card scheme (One Nation One Card) would immensely help people to obtain food grain at any nearby fair price shops (FPS), especially migrants who stay away from their native state whilst working. Such a scheme should be implemented as soon as possible in the present pandemic situation. Unskilled migrant workers share that they have paid high prices for food during the pandemic, even though they had ration cards for their home state.
- Minati Pradhan, 23, an agriculture worker from the block G. Udayagiri, in Kandhamal district of Odisha shared her struggle during lockdown period. Tears rolled as she shared being abandoned by her employer during perilous times. Remembering the PDS is a blessing for poor families, but when she was struggling to meet her needs being treated as aliens in the State of Telangana. She thinks that PDS facilities should be availed by beneficiaries anywhere in the country. Universalization of PDS will really help migrant people to ensure food security.
Mithun Pradhan, 40, a daily labourer from Paranpanga village in Kandhamal district has high respect for PDS and its positive impact on the lives of villagers. He thinks that this system will be more beneficial if it can also source pulses from the area and distribute these at a subsidized price.
- Gobind Chalan, 37, a coordinator (Gaon Saathi) of unskilled labourers from Bania village, assists in the implementation of public works under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). He says that PDS should distribute pulses and oils at a subsidized rate to help tackle malnourishment in tribal areas. He suggests that every village should have fair price shops to enable women and the elderly to procure rations without unnecessary travel and waiting times. He thinks if a ‘One Nation One Card’ scheme had been in place, the majority of the migrants who returned from other places could have avoided the difficulties and distress of travelling home during a pandemic.
- Hari Pujari, 65, a farmer, says that PDS has been effective in supplementing the food grains for a fair price during the pandemic, along with the old age pension. He was unable to venture out to sell his agriculture produce or to procure agriculture inputs due to restrictions placed on elderly people during the Covid-19 lockdown, which badly affected their source of income. If fair price shops had been in all villages it would have been beneficial.
- Abdul Raza Khan, 54, a fair price shop (FPS) trader from Phulbani, Kandhamal, has 20 years of experience in PDS distribution and now deals with 1648 cardholders in 5 wards. He says that PDS is distributed under 3 schemes Antyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY), Agradhikari Parivar (PHH) both of which come under National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the third scheme is the State Food Security Scheme (SFSS). During the pandemic situation relief food was distributed under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana scheme (PMGKAY) wherein all the card holders from all schemes benefitted from this free of cost. It spanned a period of 8 months (from April to November 2020) and provided 4kgs of Rice and 1 kg of wheat each month.
- Jubati Sunamajhi, 56, a housewife from the village Sirkabarga, in Kandhamal district said PDS is a blessing for poor families who are struggling to meet their minimal nutrition requirements. However, she finds the quantity is insufficient for a month. She thinks universalization will really help migrant people to ensure food security.
Grievance redressal mechanisms and resilience building during emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic
There are several mechanisms which could be adopted by the Public Distribution System to reduce grievances. Using technology to provide end to end computerisation, for example digitization of ration cards, universalization, computerized allocation of fair price shops, issuance of smart cards, usage of GPS technology and SMS-based monitoring. There could also be a web-based citizen and distribution centre portal, a call centre and complaint monitoring system, and an online depot system.
To prevent ration card fraud and delay in receiving benefits, the Government is pushing for States to opt for Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) whereby the subsidy will be credited to bank accounts of beneficiaries to ensure their entitlement, enabling them to buy food grains from anywhere in the market. This would be done through connecting or ‘seeding’ each person’s unique identification number (Aadhaar) with government schemes, to easily deliver correct and timely benefits and subsidies.
Lessons learned from the pandemic
The PDS is the world’s largest food subsidy program and has been the cornerstone of India’s social safety net programs. In times of crisis, such as the present pandemic, a functional safety net is a must for the mass exodus of migrants, who have no prospect of income or food. Covid-19 impacted the most vulnerable groups across the country who have been left without access to their entitlement to food. In response, states introduced free food grain and pulses for all. Those without ration cards could register on websites to access e-coupons instead. These were short term effective responses but far from ideal, being predominantly targeted with few resources and a low level of technological literacy.
The national Government considered the feasibility of temporarily adopting a One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme to enable poor migrant workers stranded in different places to access food from any ration shop of their choice across the country. The current crisis vividly reflects that portability needs to be complemented with divisibility in entitlements, whereby separated family members can claim rations independently.
Finally, though the PDS has somewhat tried to address the problem of hunger and food insecurity, its impact on nutrition security is still debated. Whether PDS enables communities to ensure consumption of micro-nutrient rich foods to provide a balanced diet is still unclear; as opposed to being limited to only staple foods with a high calorie intake. Thus, it is essential to look at PDS as a larger system with a wide and varied sets of interventions.
This blog was written by Nizni Hans, Nihar Maharana and Shubhasree Shankar from Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), India and edited by Hannah Gray, GRTA Project Officer, UEA on 10 November 2020.
The Lahanti Club: How young people in rural India are using modern tech to document traditional practices
In rural India, 45% of tribal children under 5 years old are underweight1. Rural tribal communities are particularly vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity. The Sustainable Food Systems project, part of the Global Research Translation Award (GRTA), is working with grass-roots community groups to upscale innovations that lead to a better understanding of dietary diversity. One of these community groups is called the Lahanti Club, a collective of young people from the Santhali tribe in Bihar state, who are making films about traditional foods foraged from the forest.
‘Filmmakers in the making’
The Lahanti Club’s YouTube videos describe themselves ‘as filmmakers in the making… imagining different sustainable futures, one shot at a time!’
The collective of 27 members was formed in 2017, to inspire the younger generation to embrace their Santhali roots. Using modern technology, the young members of the group have been working in schools, interviewing older members of the community, and most recently capturing knowledge about traditional food practices on film.
Modern tech and traditional practices
The Global Research Translation Award (GRTA) is supporting the Lahanti Club through the Sustainable Food System partner organisation PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action). The GRTA project is working in a number of countries to encourage innovations that promote sustainable development. This funding from the UK government has enabled the Lahanti club to receive cameras and training to create their own films. PRADAN field staff are able to provide expert input to the filmmaking process where required, although they encourage the Lahanti club to develop their own storylines, then shoot and edit the films themselves.
“Shooting films on wild forest foods gives the Santhal community contextual knowledge and helps them develop a sense of pride in their traditional culture,” said Shuvajit Chakraborty, an executive with PRADAN.
Foraged fruits, leaves and snails
The Lahanti Club’s films about wild forest foods each start with an introduction to the scale of food insecurity and nutrition deficiencies facing tribal communities in rural India. Each film focuses on a different foraged food, showing the method of collection, preparation and eating, and highlighting the nutritional benefits.
Bade Billi is the Santhali name for the fruit of the Banyan tree, which has been collected by tribal communities for generations. The filmmaker Sonalal Marandi interviews village children to find out what they have learnt from their elders about the health benefits of eating Bade Billi, for example boosting the immune system, and shows them tucking into the small round fruits, straight from the tree.
Munga Ara is the Santhali name for the Moringa tree or Drumstick tree. The leaves provide various micronutrients, vitamins, anti-oxidants and fibre. This film, directed by Motilal Hansda, shows women from the community collecting the leaves, processing them and cooking them on a villager’s stove, accompanied by a soundtrack of beautiful singing by Kusum Hansda, another member of the Lahanti Club.
Rokoy and Ghongha are Santhali names for a periwinkle snail, a valuable source of protein, vitamins and micro-nutrients. The filmmaker Kavita Marandi shoots footage of young girls heading out from their village to some wet grassland to forage for hundreds of the small snails. Once collected, the girls painstakingly pull the molluscs out of their shells using safety pins, before cooking up with spices, onions and rice to create a nutritious meal for the whole family, served on bowls fashioned from large leaves.
In the Santhali language, Lahanti means ‘to become more’. These youngsters are becoming more literate about food and nutrition, indigenous practices and sustainable development, whilst improving their digital and technology skills. In the Covid-19 lockdown, many families became more reliant on foraged foods than ever. Their films will become an invaluable part of the digital hub being developed by the wider Sustainable Food Systems project, amplifying their learning to other tribal communities through online and audio platforms, and raising awareness to local government offices and education providers. Already they are receiving media attention and government awareness.
Blog written by Hannah Gray, GRTA Project Officer at University of East Anglia, UK on 4 August 2020.
1. Indian National Family Health Survey 4 (2017) http://rchiips.org/NFHS/NFHS-4Reports/India.pdf
Covid-19 in India: How the GRTA project is responding to the challenge
The Covid-19 crisis lockdown is affecting India’s rural peoples in many ways. The local markets have been shut down (as reported in the previous blog), planting and harvesting of crops is difficult, and migrant workers without work are not allowed to return to their villages. Daily wage workers and self-employed people are struggling to earn money and purchase food for their families, due to the soaring price of food items. Amid these uncertain times, our Indian partners have refocused their family nutrition knowhow to help rural communities in this unprecedented crisis.
Pre-lockdown prevention campaigns
Since the early stages of the lockdown in India, our GRTA team has been working to enhance community awareness about Covid-19. GRTA partner PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action) carried out door-to-door awareness in Bihar, giving advice on prevention and communicating symptoms and transmission facts to counter misinformation.
In Chakai, PRADAN hosted an awareness session with leaders of women’s federations, who learnt how to create masks using tissue paper and rubber-bands. They also made hand sanitizer using the locally-available Mahua flower (Madhuca longifolia) an Indian tropical tree.
In addition, the team prepared some comic strips in Hindi to highlight the importance of social distancing and virus prevention, circulated online.
Supporting communities from home by phone
With planned work with communities currently on hold because of lockdown, our GRTA teams are working from home and harnessing the power of smartphone phone networks and social media.
Mobile Vaani is a network of voice-based community media platforms and mobile apps operating across a number of states in India. Created by GRTA partner Gram Vaani, a participatory social tech company, the Mobile Vaani app reaches over 1 million people in remote parts of India where communication is more difficult. Mobile Vaani enables users to share their views and create their own content.
The GRTA teams are using the mobile app and the Interactive Voice-based Response Systems (IVRS) to let people in rural areas know about government schemes for assistance during the pandemic. The teams have created audio tutorials on how to use the IVRS, and they are regularly updating content due to the constantly changing situation.
Gathering information to understand the impact of the crisis
The teams are sending out Calls to Action for users to record clips and interviews about how the pandemic is having an impact on livelihoods. People are responding with many serious concerns. Food prices are soaring: one person from Tamil Nadu said onions currently cost Rs 130 per kg (about £1.37). He would normally earn £1.69 a day but is out of work due to the lockdown. State governments started rolling out relief measures such as an increased ration allowance and cash assistance for women, people with disabilities, and those with Below Poverty Line ration cards. However, people responded to say they still didn’t have enough money to purchase the subsidised provisions. One construction worker in Dindigul city in Tamil Nadu says: "I can only dream of eating vegetables. It looks like we can only survive on porridge".
Some migrant workers are suicidal, out of work but not able to travel home, and without access to rations. The teams are using this evidence to advocate for an appropriate response by local and regional authorities. In the period March 24 and April 7 the GRTA teams managed to solve over 70 reported problems, including contacting authorities to get food to migrant workers considering suicide.
Re-focussing our research question
PRADAN have newly launched a Covid-19 task force, which will report back to the GRTA project. They aim to use surveys on the IVRS platform, in-depth phone interviews and analysis of secondary data to look at how lives and livelihoods will be affected by the pandemic, maintaining an emphasis on Sustainable Food Systems. Specifically, they will investigate four aspects of this crisis: 1) preventative protocols, 2) basic needs (e.g. food, shelter, healthcare), 3) livelihoods (e.g. agriculture, forestry, markets), 4) migrants and labour.
The GRTA team at Kalinga Institute for Social Sciences (KISS) are redrafting policy advice for legislators to reflect the current crisis, while also writing newspaper articles to raise awareness around the likely impacts of Covid-19 for longer-term sustainable food systems and food security in India.
Find out more on these Twitter and Facebook channels:
Blog written by Elettra Spadola, GRTA Project Administrator, and Hannah Gray, GRTA Project Officer at University of East Anglia, UK on 21 April 2020.
How is Covid-19 affecting the weekly local markets in Koraput, India?
Weekly local markets in tribal areas of India are known as haats. They are the nerve centre of community life and a significant source of income for people. The haats provide an insight into village economies and the social and cultural lives of these communities. Apart from selling local produce, they offer space for people to discuss and debate, celebrate festivals and enjoy recreational activities. People walk or travel several kilometres to reach haats that are held in various places on different days of the week. Rice, flowers, vegetables, forest produce, ornaments, pottery, honey, and much more can be purchased at the weekly haats. The present Covid-19 lockdown in India has closed down the haats, which is impacting tribal communities in many ways.
According to a community volunteer working in Boipariguda block, around 150-200 haats are usually held in Koraput district each week. Products foraged from forests are sold at Ramgiri and Boipariguda haats, whereas at Kunduli haat vegetables are for sale. Onkadelli haat is a colourful affair, visited by the Bonda and Gadaba community who live in the remotest part of the district. Traders from the nearby states of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh come to the haats to buy vegetables and other produce and sell on elsewhere.
The importance of foraged items
Collection and sale of produce foraged from forests is one of the main sources of livelihood and income generation for tribal people, especially women.
A wide range of foraged items are sold in the haats, including wild honey, tamarind, mango, many varieties of leaves and seeds and mahua flowers. Tamarind seeds may fetch 20 rupees per kg, whilst karanja seeds may fetch 70 rupees per kg if the seed covers have been removed. Kendu leaves are bought by traders in a stack of 100 leaves at a price of 200 rupees. The labour-intensive collection of foraged items yields an important source of cash income for tribal and landless communities, as well as providing subsistence resources for nutrition, shelter and medicine during the lean dry seasons. It is predominantly women who collect, process and sell these items, which ensures food security for their families and gives them some financial and social empowerment.
How will lockdown affect these areas?
In the current Covid-19 pandemic, tribal communities are facing hardship because the lockdown has coincided with the foraging season (see Table 1). According to Chittaranjan Pani, a leading expert on the Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) economy in India “10 million people in Odisha and nearly 275 million people across the country collect NTFPs like tendu leaves, tree borne oil seeds, mohua flowers, siali and sal leaves” during this period. The cash earned during these months is critical during the monsoon season when employment dries up.
The lockdown will impact livelihoods, income and food security of the tribal and landless communities. According to Mr Pani, “the earnings from forest products in this 3-4 months period contributes to 60 to 80% of their annual income.”
How is lockdown affecting haats today?
According to Manas Mohanty, a community volunteer in Boipariguda block, all weekly haats are currently suspended. The areas near the village centres are strictly adhering to the lockdown because many migrant labourers have returned from nearby states and there is strict monitoring of movement and gatherings as preventive measures. Some places are still running small haats for a few hours, only selling vegetables. Some traders are going to the villages to buy produce directly, and people are selling at half the usual cost to make some money while they still can. In the interior of Koraput, people are still foraging in forests, but they are unable to sell in haats, so most are just collecting, drying and storing. Some produce will be used for subsistence and some will be stored for sale at a later date.
What can be done to help sustainable food systems at this time?
The Van Dhan Scheme was launched in 2018 and should play an important role in improving tribal incomes through value addition of non-timber forest produce (NTFP). The scheme is implemented through the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and TRIFED (Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited). Locally, agricultural centres called Kendras are supposed to be implementing the scheme through local self-help groups (SHGs). 156 Van Dhan Kendras have been proposed in Odisha and one centre at Kuchinda in Sambalpur district is currently functional.
As the Van Dhan Kendra in Koraput is not operational at present, the Government of Odisha has made various decisions related to NTFP collection and sale. As of 20th April, people engaged with the collection of foraged items are allowed to continue collecting, harvesting, processing, transporting and selling to authorized agencies during the lockdown, as long as hygiene rules and social distancing are adhered to. The Odisha Forest Development Corporation Ltd. (OFDC) is trying to collect the produce through its forest volunteers and staff engaged in the area at guaranteed prices. It is hoped that such operations can be scaled up and further exemptions from the lockdown granted to people who collect non timber forest produce to ensure tribal communities can be sustained during this time of crisis.
This blog was written on 21 April 2020 by Nizni Hans, Manas Mohanty and Shubhasree Shankar from Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, India, and Hannah Gray, GRTA Project Officer from University of East Anglia, UK.
Rangoli art: A tiny but bold step towards modern science
Researchers in India are using the Rangoli art form to engage local Santhali women in discussions about health and nutrition. Rangoli is a form of art originating in India, where patterns are created on the ground using colourful materials like rice, flour, sand or flower petals. The final design has been adopted as the logo for the CHIRAG research project.
In this blog, Shuvajit Chakraborty from PRADAN describes how a participatory process using games and art helped women to understand dietary diversity and gain ownership of the project.
About the CHIRAG project
The CHIRAG project (Creative Hub for Innovation and Reciprocal Research and Action for Gender Equality) is funded by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), through the UEA’s Global Research Translation Award (GRTA). The project brings together information on particular food production choices, technologies, diets and consumption practices and their relationship to improving health and nutrition. We are working closely with communities, especially women’s groups, youth groups and students to generate and share knowledge on sustainable food systems.
The 100 seeds game
The paddy harvesting season had just ended in the Chakai block of south Bihar, which meant women from a community group could join a meeting about health and associated knowledge systems. We started the meeting with a participatory rural appraisal tool named the 100-seeds game. In this game the women prepare their seasonal weekly dietary platter and we try to measure the proportion of nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. Through this participatory exercise, all of us can understand the relationship between traditional food practices and what modern science tells us about nutritional properties of various foods.
This game generated a deep discussion about nutrients and their weekly diet, and we could see contextual understanding developing. Yet we wanted to go further, and enable the women to feel a sense of ownership around the CHIRAG project, as co-producers of knowledge with us.
Using art to foster ownership
It was at this point the idea of a participatory logo came to mind. We encouraged the women to create a logo using the food products they had previously debated the nutritional merits of. But they were unfamiliar with the concept of a ‘logo’.
Using a different approach, we asked for ideas of a unique artistic activity which could creatively express their understanding of dietary diversity. They discussed among themselves and decided to make a Rangoli of their food grains. We started them off with the outline of a lamp, because the Hindi word for lamp is chirag, which is also the project’s name.
We observed the women filling up the lamp outline with colourful grains, pulses, vegetables and eggs. We experienced the nitty-gritty of the process; the earnest discussion and consensual decision making of what to add and where to add it. We watched, spellbound, as the beautiful design appeared on the floor before us.
The final result
Rangoli is a form of art where colours are used for creating an abstract pattern, but here the collective ideas of a group of women created a fusion of food and art with contextual meaning, grounding their discussions about diet into a recognised symbol for the project’s work going forwards. This logo design didn’t happen on a laptop, but on an earthen floor; not with graphic design software, but with tangible foods. This practice itself tells an alternative story of politics and development.
The Rangoli lamp art, incorporated into the CHIRAG logo, surrounded by a colourful letter C, representing the Sustainable Development Goals.
This blog was written by Shuvajit Chakraborty, an Executive at PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action), a non-government, non-profit organisation that works with India’s rural poor, and Hannah Gray, GRTA Project Officer, University of East Anglia on 2 April 2020.
Participatory filmmaking with rural communities in India
Film-maker Christine Cornea and Research Associate Alexandra Smith travelled to India in March 2020 to create a series of short films about food and nutrition for the CHIRAG research project. These films will be used to support the development of a virtual knowledge centre, managed and shared by the communities for knowledge exchange about food diversity and sustainable practices.
What is the CHIRAG project?
The CHIRAG project (Creative Hub for Innovation and Reciprocal Research and Action for Gender Equality) is funded by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), through the UEA’s Global Research Translation Award (GRTA). The Indian research partners are working with communities to study nutrition, health and wellbeing to generate practical knowledge. This knowledge will be shared through an innovative digital hub, hosting video podcasts, creative writing, interviews, films and other tools.
Building skills for longer term objectives
This GCRF funded project aims to build capacity in local communities by delivering training for local people to develop a wide range of skills. Christine and Alex delivered two-day filmmaking training sessions to different communities in two Indian states, Bihar and Odisha. The sessions focused on aspects of short documentary recording including narrative and structure, visualising documentary shots, framing and camera movement, and technical skills for using a GoPro kit. These technical sessions were followed by story boarding exercises, enable community groups to plan their films. Christine commented that the participants were "really keen to learn about how they could make short documentary films. We were struck by their enthusiasm and ability to grasp certain concepts and skills so quickly. Honestly, they were a joy to teach”.
Films created by communities, for communities
After two days of training, the community groups launched into filming. A group of young participants chose to create a short-film about Chaitra Parab - a local festival celebrating the start of mango season. Other groups focused on the practices of foraging for different food items. Interviewees, mainly women, elderly men and children, highlighted that forest food items play an important role in their diet and raised topics of concern for the communities, including climate change, reduced forest cover and access to land and resources.
One of the interviews focused on the Mahula flower (Madhuca latifolia), a minor forest product that is a rich source of glucose and fructose. Interviewees talked about the social, religious and cultural significance of the Mahula, how they collect, store and sell the flowers, and how different parts of the process are undertaken by men and women.
Another interview was filmed in a plantation of Eucalyptus trees and focused on the changing gender dynamics due to a shift in plantation practice, enabling women's engagement at work, but also presenting problems with child care and women’s control over decision making in terms of land use.
The short films created by the local communities will be shared on the digital hub, where sustainable food practices and knowledge can be shared within and between communities.
Christine Cornea is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Art, Media and American Studies at UEA, and Alex Smith is a Research Associate. Blog written by Elettra Spadola, GRTA Project Administrator at UEA on 18 March 2020.
Sustainable Food Systems Films
Banwar Peetha (Field Rat) | Santhali recipe | A PRADAN CHIRAG Film for the UN Food Systems Summit
Aai-Kai (Red Ant) | Odiya recipe | A KISS CHIRAG Film for the UN Food Systems Summit
Youth-led creative learning practices amongst indigenous communities in India
On 22 February 2021, Nitya Rao and PRADAN researchers presented this webinar for the UEA EDU-DEV public seminar series, which you can watch anytime:
Rural Markets and the Coronavirus Crisis
Ortua Oo | Food During Covid-19 | Food from the forest
Kanthe Ara, Huter Baha and Kath Oo | Food from the forest
Aat Aser | Food from the Forest
Socio-economic Impact of Eucalyptus Plantation