Indian farmers, instead of simply planting more crops, should focus on different nutrition strategies to provide year-round nutrition and food security. This has come up in a new study by researchers at the University of Delaware.
The study led by Pinki Mondal shows that the strategies can be on the individual level, such as growing more diverse crops for personal consumption in their home gardens, or on a community-level, where individuals would work with their local communities and arrange to have farmers bring in different vegetables each week to the local markets,
Mondol is assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment and the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). She points out that the research began when she travelled to Central India to talk with semi-subsistence farmers to validate data from her remote sensing work. During that trip, she saw the farmers diets firsthand.
“When I saw what they were eating, it struck me that these people are not just the producers, they are also consumers,” said Mondal. “In this particular landscape, whatever these semi-subsistence farmers grow in their small plots, they eat, and they sell a portion of it in the market,” she added.
In central India, some farmers practice single cropping – harvesting only once a year-while others practice multiple cropping and harvest multiple times during the year. For the research, Mondol developed a questionnaire and talked to farmers from different villages to identify the different food items they were consuming. Working with members from the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) in India, the researchers collected data from 600 unique households from 2016 through 2018.
Two hundred households were interviewed for the three growing seasons – monsoon, winter, and summer. The researchers also calculated the diversity in the diets of the respective households to investigate their food and nutritional security and dietary diversity. Of the households surveyed, 43 per cent experienced moderate to severe food insecurity in all seasons and 81 per cent of women in all seasons do not consume a minimally diverse diet. They found that cereals, mainly rice were the most important food item regardless of the season, and there was not much consumption of nutrient-rich foods such as fish, eggs and meat.
Mondial said that they found that multiple cropping did not help with food security or dietary diversity. Moreover, most of the houses did not have refrigeration. “So whatever they purchase from the market, they eat. Whatever they produce, they eat. They cannot store perishable food items and most of these villages have a weekly produce market. So if you go visit these families on a market day, their food plate would look very different than what they eat the other times of the week,” she said.
To help with the dietary diversity and food security, Mondal said that increasing production diversity in home gardens – such as planting leafy green vegetables would be an effective tool to help with nutrition inadequacy, especially among women. In addition to diversifying home gardens, a better local market structure could be put in place where farmers who are producing diverse crops such as pulses (edible seeds), can sell the items at the local market. Mondel stressed, however, that there is not just one simple solution to solving these complex dietary and nutritional security issues. She mentioned that a holistic approach was needed to understand the reality on the ground and how to better support these communities.