“I am delighted to be here at the “Outlook Speak out-Poshan” program on nutrition being organised by “Outlook India”.
India is a country built on the hopes of 1.35 billion people. In my long political career, I have had the opportunity to see the country and my fellow countrymen very closely. I can, thus, say with utmost certainty that we are a nation of the indomitable spirit and unmatchable potential to show excellence in every field.
The latest Chandrayaan-2 mission speaks volumes of our scientific fervour and technological advancements. However, to keep India striding fast on its development trajectory, we need the people of the country -- its human capital -- to be stronger and healthier. And of course, nutrition is a key determinant in making the human capital healthier.
India is a young nation with 65 per cent of the people under the age of 35 years. No other country is blessed with such a huge demographic advantage. For India to fast-track progress and achieve its rightful place in the comity of nations, we must ensure that our people, particularly the youngsters are well nourished.
However, it is a matter of concern that 38.4 percent of children below the age of five years are stunted in India, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4).
Data also shows that there has been an increase in childhood wasting in the last 10 years (NFHS-3 and 4) from 19.8% to 21%. Rising Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) and Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) remain critical concerns. Besides under-nutrition, there is also the problem of over nutrition or obesity. At least 20.7% of Indian women and 18.6% of men are obese and overweight (NFHS-4). Hunger and obesity are the double burden of malnutrition.
Water scarcity, unprecedented drought, floods and climate vulnerability are affecting India’s food production posing a threat to our present and future generations.
As we all are aware, nutrition is essential for a healthy immune system and higher-order cognitive ability. Therefore, empowerment of the present and future generations should be the top priority for the country. It is extremely crucial for inclusive and sustainable development.
Indian food and diet system, with their diversity, promote good nutrition. People, at large, believe that the Indian way is self-sustained, and it can very well support the present and future generations. These traditional Indian diets promote better nutrition, and therefore, we must promote our traditional food and feeding practices.
It has also been observed that many Indian states have done exemplary work in the field of nutrition. Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Chhattisgarh, Punjab Mizoram, Gujarat, Odisha, Delhi and Assam have shown reduction in stunting.
Meghalaya, Mizoram, Bihar, Jharkhand and Kerala have shown success in reduction of wasting. Sikkim, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand have shown success in reduction of anaemia. We need to celebrate our success and be proud to scale up this evidence and learning. These achievements can inspire others to replicate and take forward the initiatives.
Our programs and policies should be evidence-based. I would urge research and academic institutions like ICMR, CFTRI, ICAR, NIN, IITs and AIIMS to carry out more research in the area of nutrition.
It should also be noted that adolescent girls act as the second window of opportunity in the case of addressing malnutrition, while the first 1000 days of life being the first window. Preventing early marriage of girls, addressing girl-dropout from schools, delaying first pregnancy and adequate spacing between births would greatly contribute to better nutrition.
We also need to involve Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Health and Family Welfare and Food and Civil Supplies Ministries in Nutrition planning. Ideally, we should overlay Nutrition maps with agricultural maps on what produce should be able to achieve optimal nutrition and recommend seed kits. Promoting dry land agriculture will be a game changer on the nutrition front.
Initiation of breastfeeding within an hour of birth is extremely important and prevents neonatal morbidity/mortality. It helps build continued immunity after placental separation. Exclusive breastfeeding needs to be ensured up to six months. In India, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding is only 55% (NFHS–4) and only 41% are able to start breastfeeding within an hour of giving birth to a newborn. Breastfeeding needs to continue up to 2 years. It is pertinent to mention that we are observing “World Breastfeeding Week” from August 1 to 7th. We need to actively promote the breastfeeding to ensure optimal nutrition and reduce disease risk among infants.
Dear sisters and brothers, the reach of ICDS cannot be matched by any other system. We need to ensure that ICDS serves right complementary food for children below 2 years and supplementary food for Pregnant and Lactating Women.
It is also equally important to address micronutrient malnutrition in the country through supplementation, food fortification, bio-fortification and conventional plant breeding. Dietary diversification needs to be ensured with increased consumption of green leafy vegetables, fruits, lentils and other protein rich food items.
Immunization is essential to prevent children from falling prey to various dangerous diseases. I am glad that the government has launched "Mission Indradhanush" to vastly improve immunization coverage.
By continuing our efforts to ensure safe motherhood through schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Matritva Suraksha Abhiyaan and Ayushman Bharat, we also need to focus on ensuring good quality, easily accessible and affordable maternal healthcare services for all women.
Since nutrition is closely linked with agricultural sector, we need to promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture, dry land agriculture and naturally bio-fortified crops like minor millets, amla and drumstick.
It is about time India focused on Precision Agriculture using Artificial Intelligence for food, nutrition and water security.
Micronutrient deficiencies, which are commonly known as deficiencies of vitamins and minerals, i.e. below healthy thresholds, are a major public-health problem in India today. They affect all the income groups across all states.
Micronutrients deficiency results in low productivity, poor cognitive and physical development. We need to address this through supplementation, food fortification and dietary diversity.
I also feel that State Food Commissions should be designated as State Food and Nutrition Commissions and empowered to review, monitor and ensure access to nutritious food.
Apart from establishing a system to generate and review nutrition data and the status of interventions in multiple sectors, there is a need to focus on effective implementation of proven interventions. Anganwadi centers should be the points of convergence for nutrition, health and food security services.
I feel that there is also a need to leverage the human capital potential -- 5.5 million Self-Help Groups, with 60 million women members, 76,000 village-level dairy co-operatives, 2,50,000 panchayats across 640,867, Villages, 13.63 lakh Aanganwadi centres, 1.4 million Workers and 1.4 million Helpers. Also, ASHA workers and ANMs should work together for the success of the mission to make India malnutrition-free.
These grass-root level workers must be imparted training and empowered with adequate budget.
The Pradhan Mantri POSHAN Abhiyaan – the scheme for holistic nourishment-- can be the guiding light for all the nutrition-related interventions in the country. It aims to benefit 100 million people in three phases from 2017-18 to 2019-20.It targets the reduction of stunting, under-nutrition, anaemia and low birth weight.
I feel that POSHAN Abhiyaan needs to be implemented in a campaign mode with greater involvement of panchayats, civil society organizations and people’s networks.
In fact, there should be a national movement on the lines of Swachh Bharat, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Abhiyaan and other similar schemes to eliminate the scourge of malnutrition and other nutrition-related problems.
I also feel that there is a need to bring about a nutrition revolution in the county by creating women nutrition-warriors or change leaders at the hamlet level. These change leaders need to create awareness and provide counselling by visiting every home.
Dear sisters and brothers, India is definitely ready for the nutrition revolution to address malnutrition and it has to be led by women.
All stakeholders and policy makers in the health sector need to immediately focus on the problem of rising obesity. Let us address India’s double burden on malnutrition.
Finally in my concluding remarks, I would like to stress that every child has a right to receive good nutrition. It is necessary to address malnutrition in all forms and in a life-cycle approach with a focus on first 1000 days of life.
We need to build on the numerous best practices, evidence and models to eradicate malnutrition. Special focus should be on pregnant and lactating mothers to build future potential and see a new generation of citizens endowed with maximum physical and mental potentiality.
The government and development partners need to come together on a common platform and work for this national cause. Greater allocation of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds must go for nutrition-related interventions.
Parliamentarians should also utilize their MPLAD funds towards nutrition. MGNREGA scheme could also possibly focus on nutrition-related activities by promoting nutri-gardens/kitchen gardens on community lands.
I must compliment Outlook Group and PCI for coming together to bring people’s attention to this pertinent national issue. Good nutrition is not a choice anymore; it is a prerequisite for New India’s brighter future!