Development of Farming System for Nutrition intervention (FSNi) at crop level

In the face of changing climate, rural agricultural sector is under heightened pressure not only to increase food output, but also to address undernutrition. The FSNi approach (as elsewhere) intends to improve nutritional outcomes and dietary diversity in a rural population through agricultural production- for consumption (direct) or -for sale (indirect). FSNi was designed to include number of agricultural curatives (e.g. improved seeds, soil technology, bio-fortification, backyard gardening) as a stimulant for higher income and better nutritional outcomes. To demonstrate feasibility of location-specific FSNi, a baseline study was undertaken in 2013-14 to identify the primary causes that limits food and nutrition security at household level in Wardha (eight villages) and Koraput (eleven villages) districts of Maharashtra and Odisha respectively.

With the baseline findings, we were able to envisage possible agriculture-nutrition pathways. Overall, the percentage of all forms of undernutrition, vitamin A deficiency and iron-deficiency anaemia for children<5 years reflected national levels. Higher prevalence rate of chronic energy deficient women and anaemic pregnant women was also observed. Looking into cropping sector, both intervention areas typically practice rain-fed agriculture. Koraput reflected- subsistence farming, while Wardha -commercial cropping. Some surveyed households practice backyard gardening, but challenges related to seed, water and technology hampered production and productivity to a larger extent. As a result, very low dietary diversity was observed. The average daily consumption of pulses, fruits & vegetables in surveyed households was well below the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) levels. Regardless of commercial or subsistence cropping, food and diets, in general, lacking diversity and without nutrition-focus show weak agriculture-nutrition linkages. An innovative FSNi strategy that can diversify diet and better use of income for nutrition adequacy was therefore proposed to address undernutrition and micronutrient deficiency problems. 

Picture Caption: FSNi development process

We engaged with farm-households and stakeholders to identify potential location-specific FSNi to fit into local resource factors. Inclusion of more pulses; nutrition-smart and climate-resilient agricultural practices;greater technology and input access through linkages; promotion of backyard gardening of horticultural crops were recognised as the likely routes to improve rural crop performance to overcome food and nutrition insecurity. 

FSNi was demonstrated in selected farm-households in multiple locations across the villages. Since the implemented FSNi technologies have sufficient information base, the on-farm trials (OFT) was carried under joint responsibility of farmers and researchers. OFT was made as simple as possible in terms of design/layout to ensure effective farmers understanding and meaningful participation and contribution. A number of OFT’s were conducted from 2013-15 including but not limited to crop diversification, improved varieties and agronomy practices and bio-fortified crops. A comparative performance evaluation was adopted - recommended practices vs. farmers’ traditional practices. Each OFT was conducted in such a way that the selected land area was split into known portions to include proposed and farmers’ treatments. Yield, economics and nutritional equivalence per unit area was concurrently estimated for each activity. In doing so, most farmers were able to appreciate/witness the superiority of the crop- field and yield performance under proposed production practices under their involvement and in farm environment. This scenario to a large extent helped rapid diffusion of knowledge and practices to additional beneficiaries.

Finally, among all the demonstrated FSNi, key FSNi were identified through farmers expressed requirements for scaling up. From June 2016, in Koraput (a) improved production practices of finger millet (b) maize-pea intercropping and in Wardha (a) improved production practices of sorghum and pulses were up-scaled along with promotion of backyard nutrition gardens with orange flesh sweet potato and moringa in particular. In the beginning, eight villages in Wardha and eleven villages in Koraput participated, but at present, more than 20 villages in both areas have shown intention to be a part of our channelisation. Overall, farm-households will be able to get multi-fold benefits from increased income, improved nutrition output per area and greater dietary diversity. An end line survey is planned in 2017-18 to provide greater proof of impact of these FSNi with respect to household nutrition and dietary diversity status. 

Vijaya Bhaskar and Bhavani R V
Thursday, August 11, 2016

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South Asia Focus

Funded by UK DFID

This research has been funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK Government’s official policies



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