Right to Food: Can Millets Improve Nutrition Outcomes in Chattisgarh, India?

Millets, which grow well in rain-fed regions such as Chhattisgarh, used to be a mainstay for household cultivation and consumption. Credit: Picture courtesy - Neeraja Kudrimoti.

Millets, which grow well in rain-fed regions such as Chhattisgarh, used to be a mainstay for household cultivation and consumption. Credit: Picture courtesy – Neeraja Kudrimoti.

By External Source
Sep 17 2021 – Chhattisgarh was one of the first few states in the country to universalise the public distribution system (PDS) and provide ‘Right to Food’ to its people. In order to ensure access to quality foodgrains for its vulnerable population, the state introduced the Food Security Act in 2012. The state has been providing support—35 kg of rice at INR 1 and INR 2 per kg; 1 kg of iodised salt and 1 kg refined oil at no cost; 2 kg of grams at INR 5 per kg—to each eligible family (as defined in the act).

Despite these efforts and others by the state, the statistics on nutrition for children and women in Chhattisgarh, almost a decade since the act, look grim. According to the latest data released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 40 percent of children below the age of five are underweight and 41.6 percent of girls and women are anemic.

Promoting millet cultivation and consumption can be one way to improve nutritional outcomes. The focus on millets stems from the history and significance of millet cultivation in the region, the crop’s nutritional value, its ability to grow well in Chhattisgarh’s climate, and its impact on improved agro-biodiversity

While several factors—access to quality food and health care, livelihood opportunities, and context-specific vulnerabilities—impact health and nutrition outcomes, this piece specifically looks at how promoting millet cultivation and consumption can be one way to improve nutritional outcomes. The focus on millets stems from the history and significance of millet cultivation in the region, the crop’s nutritional value, its ability to grow well in Chhattisgarh’s climate, and its impact on improved agro-biodiversity.

 

A brief background on cultivation practices in Chhattisgarh

Eighty percent of Chhattisgarh is largely dependent on agriculture, which is mainly rain-fed. Additionally, there is a widespread culture of monocropping—growing a single crop every year after year, on the same land. The state is known as the rice bowl of India, as it mainly grows paddy (or rice) under monocropping.

This wasn’t always the case. Over the years, there has been a marked shift towards the cultivation of rice. The Green Revolution, which introduced the use of high-yield seed varieties and chemical fertilisers to boost the production of wheat and rice, played a big role here.

Since then, there has been a push to expand the areas under cultivation through the use of hybrid paddy seeds, and to invest in research and development around the cultivation of paddy. And in 2019, the Government of Chhattisgarh promised its farmers a minimum support price of INR 2,500 per quintal of paddy, thereby encouraging them to focus on rice. The PDS becoming predominantly rice-oriented has also contributed to farmers shifting towards growing paddy. Over time, monocropping has damaged the soil’s nutrient diversity and has led to increased crop vulnerability and dependency.

Prior to the Green Revolution, rice, millets, sorghum, wheat, maize, and barley were the major crops produced. The production of rice and millets was higher than the production of wheat, barley, and maize combined. Many of the indigenous varieties used for cultivation, especially for millets, have been lost. The traditional farming and dietary practices were more aligned with the climate conditions of the region. Millets in particular, which grow well in rain-fed regions such as Chhattisgarh, used to be a mainstay for household cultivation and consumption.

 

Why millets?

Nutritionally, millets are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. They are one of the highest sources of natural calcium. Older generations of tribal households talk about how a drink made from millets, called ragi pegaragi cooked in hot water—was especially helpful. The drink kept them full and energised for long periods of time, especially when they had to spend hours, sometimes days, in the forest collecting produce.

Additionally, diets that heavily rely on cereals (such as rice) and pulses—which are heavily subsidised by the government under the current system—can lead to deficiencies in micronutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins, and more.1 Therefore, promoting millet cultivation and consumption in the region can help combat issues of malnutrition, especially micro-nutrient deficiencies among children and women in the state.

Cultivating millets is also useful because they are better for the environment. They have a lower water footprint, are climate-smart crops, and are climate-resilient. Moreover, they are ‘farmer-friendly’ because they require a very low input cost. In Chhattisgarh, 21 out of 28 districts are water-scarce. This, coupled with climate change, erratic rainfall, and continued cultivation of water-intensive crops will eventually affect productivity and production, which in turn will affect food availability and price variations. In the long run, this will have an adverse impact on food security in the region.

 

Where are millets now?

Today, tribal households cultivate small quantities of millets, mainly for household consumption, using home-preserved seeds and traditional cultivation methods. Culturally as well, millets are used as offerings to deities or to hang millet cobs in homes on auspicious occasions. Despite the benefits of millets to both farmers and the environment, the crop has not been commercially produced since it has almost no supporting policies or markets.

Today, the area under paddy cultivation is 27 lakh hectares, almost 27 times more than the area under millet cultivation (1 lakh hectares). The Government of Chhattisgarh procured a record-breaking volume of paddy, worth INR 20,000 crore, at the minimum support price (MSP) in FY 2020-21. On the other hand, millets—which are far more nutritious, farmer-friendly, and planet-friendly smart crops—were not procured at all.

Although the state has made some efforts to increase millet cultivation, there was a shortage of seeds under various government schemes for the cultivation of millets. Further, local or indigenous seed varieties have been excluded from these schemes. Given that dietary staples may typically constitute 70 percent of a meal, and are often eaten three times a day, diversifying these staples can have a huge impact on health and nutrition. It would also address the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, as well as the socioeconomic and political factors that influence food patterns, choices, and access.

 

What needs to be done?

1. Develop an integrated ecosystem
The government of Chhattisgarh has declared procurement at MSP for ragi and kodo and kutki (little millet). However, there is also a need to adopt a comprehensive and integrated ecosystem involving multiple stakeholders—farmers, middlemen, households, markets, government, community-based organisations, and nonprofits. This would entail government support on several fronts—increasing production, promoting household consumption, developing a decentralised processing infrastructure, and developing the local market for millets. The government must also include millets in the PDS, by making them available at local Fair Price Shops.2 This will ensure that there’s diversity in the staples available—currently, only rice and chana (bengal gram) are supported.

2. Land reforms
Ragi, kodo, and kutki should also be integrated into land reforms aimed at shifting to a multi-cropping system, in a traditionally rice-growing state.

3. Processing, infrastructure, and transportation support
Millet cultivation is mostly undertaken by indigenous groups who are scattered across the Bastar region of south Chhattisgarh, and the Sarguja area in north Chhattisgarh. Processes that aid drudgery reduction, produce aggregation, and shortening the local value chain should be encouraged. Such support, especially for small and marginal farmers, communities that benefit directly from the Forests Rights Act (FRA), and Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, will help them bring their produce to procurement or aggregation centers.

4. Strengthen insurance for farmers cultivating millets
Insurance products should also be linked to millet production to provide a safety net, especially at the beginning of the production cycle. This will ensure that farmers are protected against losses during the initial shifting of cultivation to millets, and until production stabilises.

5. Increase consumption of millets
There is a need for formal linkages to welfare schemes, specifically those related to supplementary nutrition. For example, linkages to local fair price shops in PDS, Anganwadis under Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), schools under the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDM), and tribal hostels under Integrated Tribal Development Agency Business, among others. Such linkages can help secure acceptance and behaviour change in the direction towards the consumption of millets.

6. Invest in research on millets
Investing in research on markets, consumption patterns, transportation and infrastructure support, and traditional crop varieties is essential. This will help build important knowledge around nutrition, quality food, access, capacity, and viability of millets in Chhattisgarh.

7. Capacity building
Building on farmers’ knowledge, strengthening capacity for crop planning, using suitable agronomic practices, and increasing access to tools, subsidies, and registration support for government procurement is crucial. Further, it is mainly women—who are not widely recognised as farmers—who currently cultivate and manage production. Therefore, it is important to develop sustainable livelihood and social support for them such as better access to land, information, capital, and so on.
8. Seed production and preservation techniques

Lastly, another gap that needs to be addressed is the lack of available agro-climatically suitable seeds in Chhattisgarh. Awareness programmes that target seed preservation techniques among the tribals and promote the cultivation of local varieties of millets should be introduced. This will address issues of agricultural biodiversity, climate change, and nutritional concerns.

Footnotes:

  1. National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB). Prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies. Technical report No.22, National Institute of Nutrition, ICMR; 2003.
  2. Fair Price Shops are operated by the government under the public distribution system. They offer daily food and ration products—such as rice, oil, sugar, wheat, matchbox, soap, and so on—for a lower price than the market price.

 

Neeraja Kudrimoti worked as the state program officer for NITI Aayog’s Aspirational Districts Programme in Chhattisgarh. She was a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow in Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh. Neeraja advises public sector enterprises as a member of the National Corporate Social Responsibility Hub at Tata Institute Social Sciences. She has worked with state and district administrations on health, nutrition, agriculture, gender, and rural development in conflict-areas of Chhattisgarh. Neeraja holds a MSc in Public Policy from University College, London.

 

This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)

Bukele Speeds Up Moves Towards Authoritarianism in El Salvador

"Resistance and Popular Rebellion" reads a banner held by demonstrators in San Salvador in a Wednesday, Sept. 15 protest against measures they consider authoritarian adopted by the government of President Nayib Bukele. The latest was the replacement of the constitutional court judges by the ruling party, which paves the way for Bukele to seek immediate reelection, banned up to now in El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“Resistance and Popular Rebellion” reads a banner held by demonstrators in San Salvador in a Wednesday, Sept. 15 protest against measures they consider authoritarian adopted by the government of President Nayib Bukele. The latest was the replacement of the constitutional court judges by the ruling party, which paves the way for Bukele to seek immediate reelection, banned up to now in El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Sep 17 2021 – The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, has been widely criticised for his authoritarian tendencies, but has said that the changes he plans will be long-term – which to his critics means a further undercutting of the weak democratic institutions that he has already begun to dismantle.

The president gave the commemoration of the bicentennial of Central America’s independence on Wednesday, Sept. 15, a symbolic touch and pledged that his government would not reverse the changes put into motion.

“This country has suffered so much that it cannot be transformed overnight; important changes, real and worthwhile changes, take time, they are not immediate, they are made step by step”, said Bukele, in a nationwide address broadcast on radio and television on Wednesday night.

The opposition, however, sees the changes as an attack on democracy in this Central American nation of 6.7 million people.

Bukele for president in 2024?

Perhaps the most abrupt change pushed through by the Bukele administration since it took office in June 2019 was the removal of the five judges in the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber.

They were removed on May 1 when the new legislature, controlled by the lawmakers of Nuevas Ideas, Bukele’s party – who now hold 56 of the 84 seats – was installed.

The governing party’s majority allowed the president to appoint like-minded judges to the constitutional chamber, whose first move was to strike down the legal obstacle to consecutive presidential reelection.”Apparently we are in democracy, but the president’s actions run counter to democracy, he is dismantling the state’s institutionality, and is thus attacking the rights of the entire population.” — Loyda Robles

That opened the door for the president to run again at the end of his current five-year term, in 2024, which was prohibited by the constitution until just two weeks ago.

Bukele, a 40-year-old of Palestinian descent from a wealthy business family, first emerged in politics as a popular mayor of San Salvador from 2015 to 2018. He is described by observers as a millennial populist who uses social media to communicate with the public, often announcing his decisions via Twitter.

The constitutional chamber ruled that the country’s president can serve two consecutive terms in office, whereas according to a 2014 ruling by the same court a president could only run for office again after two terms served by other leaders, based on an interpretation of article 152 of the constitution.

But the new constitutional court judges named by the legislature on May 1 reinterpreted this controversial and confusing article of the constitution and ruled on Sept. 3 that presidents can stand for a consecutive term if they step down six months before the election.

The legal ruling, which drew fire from the opposition and global rights watchdogs, thus makes it possible for Bukele to seek a second term in 2024.

President Nayib Bukele gave a carefully staged speech to the country on the night of Sept. 15, addressing public authorities, as well as civilian and military representatives. CREDIT: Presidency of El Salvador

President Nayib Bukele gave a carefully staged speech to the country on the night of Sept. 15, addressing public authorities, as well as civilian and military representatives. CREDIT: Presidency of El Salvador

Manual for Latin American authoritarianism

The Salvadoran president is apparently following, virtually letter by letter, the manual used by other Latin American populist presidents with an authoritarian bent, whether on the right or the left, who, by means of rulings handed down by judges under their control, have overturned laws and perpetuated themselves in power.

“If the people grant power, and the people demand these changes, it would be no less than a betrayal not to make them,” the president said in his speech before civilian and military leaders.

The president now controls the three branches of government, with no checks against his style of government where everything revolves around him, a millennial who usually wears a backwards baseball cap and is intolerant of criticism, whether from the media, international organisations, the U.S. government or other countries.

On the morning of Wednesday Sept. 15, thousands of people marched through the streets of the Salvadoran capital to protest the president’s increasing authoritarianism, in the most massive demonstration against Bukele since he came to power.

“I’m marching to defend our rights and to protest against President Bukele’s abuses,” a trans woman who preferred to remain anonymous told IPS.

Bukele won a landslide victory in February 2019 as an anti-establishment candidate riding the wave of voter frustration and disappointment with the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), in power from 1989 to 2009, and the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which governed from 2009 to 2019.

Holding a sign reading "This government turned out to be more fake than my eyelashes," a young trans woman participates in the march called by social organisations on Sept. 15 to protest against President Nayib Bukele and his style of government that, since June 2019, has been dismantling democratic institutions in this Central American nation. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Holding a sign reading “This government turned out to be more fake than my eyelashes,” a young trans woman participates in the march called by social organisations on Sept. 15 to protest against President Nayib Bukele and his style of government that, since June 2019, has been dismantling democratic institutions in this Central American nation. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

His party then swept the legislative elections in May 2021 and now, having replaced the members of the constitutional court, Bukele pulls the strings of an important segment of the country’s justice system.

He also controls the Attorney General’s Office, after the governing party’s legislative majority removed then Attorney General Raúl Melara on May 1, replacing him with the pro-Bukele Rodolfo Delgado.

“Apparently we are in democracy, but the president’s actions run counter to democracy, he is dismantling the state’s institutionality, and is thus attacking the rights of the entire population,” lawyer Loyda Robles, of the Foundation for Studies for the Application of Law (FESPAD), told IPS.

She added that there were warning signs that El Salvador could be heading towards an even more authoritarian, dictatorial, Nicaragua-style regime.

The president of that country, Daniel Ortega, has already served three consecutive terms since his return to power in 2007, and is heading for a fourth term in 2022. To this end, the judiciary, under his control, has imprisoned almost a dozen opposition candidates who could challenge him at the polls.

Slippery slope of anti-democratic measures

Emboldened by his overwhelming triumph in the 2019 presidential elections, Bukele has taken a series of steps that have angered opposition sectors, because they believe that he intends to undermine all checks and balances and govern at will.

In addition to the removal of the constitutional court judges and the attorney general, the legislature passed a decree on Aug. 31 that forced some 200 judges to retire.

The government claims it is purging corrupt judges, who do exist. However, the process has not been based on investigations but on an across-the-board decision to make retirement mandatory for all judges over the age of 60 or who have worked for 30 years.

Some analysts have interpreted the move as a purge within the judicial system in order to later fill the vacuum with judges aligned with Bukelismo.

The government denies this charge and says the aim is to make way for young lawyers, arguing that judges in El Salvador do not hold lifetime positions.

But all of these moves have set off alarm bells both inside and outside El Salvador.

Demonstrators in Francisco Morazán square, in the historic center of San Salvador, who came out to protest on Sept. 15 against the increasingly authoritarian moves by Nayib Bukele's government, in the most massive demonstration against the president since he came to power, called by social organisations on the country's Independence Day. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Demonstrators in Francisco Morazán square, in the historic center of San Salvador, who came out to protest on Sept. 15 against the increasingly authoritarian moves by Nayib Bukele’s government, in the most massive demonstration against the president since he came to power, called by social organisations on the country’s Independence Day. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

However, analyst Dagoberto Gutiérrez told IPS that the struggle between Bukele and his opponents is rooted in a silent struggle between two economic groups: the traditional oligarchy that has pulled the strings of the country’s politics, and new small, medium and even large businesspeople aligned with the president.

Gutiérrez, a former guerrilla commander now close to the president, said the opposition is demanding independence of powers that has actually never existed in the country, since the oligarchy always put in place officials who would maintain the status quo.

That “democracy” touted by the oligarchy, with its fallacies and abuses, is being taken up by another political project, that of Bukele, who stressed that the extent of the transformations he has planned “is yet to be seen.”

For the time being, according to the constitutional court’s recent ruling, Bukele can, if he wishes, seek reelection at the end of his current term. But he would not be able to run for a third consecutive term.

However, lawyer Tahnya Pastor remarked to IPS: “Who can assure us that in the future, by means of another legal precedent, they won’t pull another reelection out of their sleeve? This doubt remains, obviously.”

She added that when all the warning signs are analysed, “we can conclude that we are heading towards the ultimate concentration of power, and history has shown that no concentration of power is good.”

But like Gutiérrez, Pastor criticised the opposition because in the past they have also manipulated, for their own political interests, the same institutions over which they are now crying foul.

“The constitution has indeed been reformed in the past depending on the makeup of the constitutional court, and the jurisprudence has responded to partisan political interests,” she said.

Bukele seems to be confident that, despite the criticism, his policies and vision are welcomed by the majority of Salvadorans, who continue to support him.

According to a survey by the José Simeón Caña Central American University carried out in June, during Bukele’s second year in office, nine out of 10 respondents said the president represented a positive change for the country.

He obtained an overall high score of 8.1, and those surveyed identified the government’s good management of the Covid-19 pandemic as its main achievement.

Not everyone shares this enthusiasm for Bukele, obviously, nor does all the criticism come from academic, political or activist circles.

“It’s not good for someone to govern as he pleases, that’s how things were done when there were kings, but we are no longer in those times,” Hernán Campos, a farmer from the Cangrejera canton in the municipality and department of La Libertad, in the central part of the country, told IPS.