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

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.

Children at Lahanti Club
Children at Lahanti Club. Photo by PRADAN.


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.

The curriculum

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’.

The challenges

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.

Final remarks

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 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 prepared by the villagers
The 12 dishes prepared by the villagers. Photo by PRADAN.

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.

Women presenting various locally available greens in the food mela
Women presenting various locally available greens in the food mela. Photo by PRADAN.

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 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.

Figure 1 describes the functioning of PDS in India

Figure 1 - how the Public Distribution System functions in India.

Table 1 - the chronology of the Public Distribution System 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. 
A Fair Price Shop in Odisha, India
Figure 2 - A Fair Price Shop (FPS) in Kandhamal, Odisha. Photo by Ms. Sonali Nayak (KISS).


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!’ 

A frame from a Lahanti Club YouTube video introducing the group

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. 

Members of the Lahanti Club

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.  

Becoming more… 

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)

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. Madhuca longifolia var. latifolia (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Dinesh ValkeThey 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. 

Hindi comic about transmission of Covid-19

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.  

Social distancing in practice c. PRADAN

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. 

Comment from Mobile Vaani users, shared on the Gram Vaani Facebook page 1Comment from Mobile Vaani users, shared on the Gram Vaani Facebook page 2

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: 

Gram Vaani: @GramVaani | FB GramVaani 


Kalinga Institute for Social Sciences: @kissfoundation | FB KISS Foundation 

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.  

A haat in Koraput in January 2020, before the Covid-19 lockdown

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.” 

Main collection months for various non-timber forest produce

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. 

A deserted haat during Covid-19 lockdown

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.  

Women create the CHIRAG lamp design from food products

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. 

Women creating the Rangoli lamp design

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. 

CHIRAG logoThe 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”. 

Women taking part in a filmed discussion

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.  

Local people film interviews in the field

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

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:

Youth-led creative learning practices amongst indigenous communities in India

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



Mahula Flower