THE BANYAN TREE: VOLUME II : BRINGING CHANGE - APPROPRIATE NUTRITION : ITS ROLE IN HEALTH

( By Editor : Carol Huss )

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1-Nutrition and Development Projects

All agricultural, industrial, rural and urban development projects will tend to affect one or more of the factors listed in Figure 2, which in turn will have it own secondary and tertiary effects (not shown in Figure 2). Focussing at the planning stage, on how such projects will on the whole affect the nutritional status of the individual poor, the target group (and as often happens even bystanders and onlookers), would help critically examine the soundness and effectiveness of these development projects from the point of view of the poor and the undernourished. Thus forest policies that ignore the rights to livelihood of minor forest producers and tribals need to be seriously given a second thought, if not abandoned totally. Industrial projects in backward areas that pollute the air, contaminate river water and drinking water sources and change the ecology permanently for the worse -- are they really worth it over the temporary gains of a few jobs created?

Development projects that neglect the neds of mothers and child care (for example, time for feeding the child)are likely not to better nutritional status of mothers and children. Often wrong informtion imposed from the outside about prestige foods(rice and wheat over millets, polished rice over parbolished rice, soft drinks, coffee and tea over milk when available)complicate the problem. Wrong information through advertising (especially on TV with its tremendous reach among all strata) is often a function of misplaced priorities of the government and of ill-conceived policies that allow, for instance, commercialisationof commonly available foods.

If we believe, as some agricultural economists do1, that food preferences change well before changes in income, the situation is indeed alarming. That is, poor people need not and would not wait till they can afford their recommended level of calories. They would shift their consumption in favour of 'taste' and what are seen as socially desirable foods, even as these 'tasty' foods become more accesible. This canhappen by advertising, marketing by business interests, or even by the so-called by-products of development and democracy, like improved transport, better roads, closer markets or more TV transmitters as elections draw near! What in effect this means is that in real terms impoverishment and pauperisation increase for poor people, even as they try to catch up on their nutritional deficiencies. Incomes of poor people, even as they try to catch up on their nutritional deficiencies. Incomes of poor people, one must remember, are not that well adjusted to inflation, lacking in bargaining power as they do.

Nutritional status of a person is thus both the result of the process of acquiring, consuming and utilising food, as also one of the critical inputs to that process. How much a person eats today decides how much energy he/she can spare to invest in procuring food for the future. In turn, how much a person eats today is determined by how much he/she could eat in the past and his/her position with respect to the rest of the society. Often in this process a person or a group gains control of various aspects in their lives or loses it even further. Alienation of the poor from land is often alienation from resources that determine a poor people's food supply a weakening of terms of trade in society that reduces one's ability to procure food (or as Amartya Sen calls it a relative loss of exchange entitlements with respect to food),

Forests and Nutrition of the Poor.

In Chapter 3, we saw how the rapid degradation of the environment, of land, water, air and biomass resources have contributed to the immiserisation of especially poor people. These trends are related to the pattern of development in our country and its links with the international market economy.

These inequitous developments have their direct impact on nutrition of especially poor people. The poor have to simply expend more calories to stay where they are at their stage of undernourishment. With their purchasing power not growing at a matching rate, vulnerable groups in society are most hit, and within households more vulnerable members like women and children are more affected.

Of specific areas of concern which affect nutrition is the degradation and depletion of water, fuel and forest food sources. To this we ought to add poor land management throughout the country. An FAO document 'Agricultural towards 2000' has noted 2 that with fuel wood production expected to worsen, "Many poor people will not be able to coook their food adequately. This can have serious nutritional and health consequences. The digestability of food will decrease and the incidence of parasites ingested with food will rise." There are reports of this happening already in some areas. Bina Agarwal and other authors have reported a reduction in the number of meals cooked due to fuel wood scarcity and associated problems like food scarcity, increased work loads, commercialisation and the increase in access to processed foods.

Forests have traditionally supplied a vast array of essential nutritients to tribals and other poor, both as a food supplement and as food sources during the lean season in seasonally dependent agricultural systems(usually March/April to August/September in most parts of India). Forests also have and continue to provide income through collection of 'minor'forest produce.

Now however field reports indicate the diminishing availability of fruits, nuts, seeds and other edibles which could prevent the worst form of hunger. "Natural forests have been replaced by commercial plantations near several villages on the Delhi-Manper Road, in Durg and Rajnandgaon districts of Madhya Pradesh. The people of Angaar Village say that in the old days, even during drought years they did not remain hungry as wild fruits could be plucked and roots dug out from the forest , but as a villager says, you cannot eat teakwood. Even from the old species of bamboo, the villagers used to get an edible seed called 'pasiya' which they say do not get in the new types of bamboo grown for indudtires.1 "There is evidence to indicate that this is happening on a wide scale in India 2 and internationally.

Table 3 is an attempt to look at the extent of people's involvement in forest based activities, that does not involve timber trade and timber processing. The numbers, and the activities listed are certainly not exhaustive, but give one an idea of how many people's livelyhood-mostly poor people's - that are being threatened by the slow degradation of forests, which in turn has implications for the numbers hungry and malnourished. So when we talk of discouraging beedis, even though from a purely health point of view, one has to think of providing alternative employment to about 7 to 10 million poor people involved in tendu leaf collection,beedi wrapping and beedi processing. This is the third largest employment source in India after agriculture and handloom and handicrafts.

One consequence of the decreasing avialbility of forest foods is the decreasing diversity of traditional diets.A nutritionally diverse diet is more likely to be a nutritionally balanced diet. Studies of diets of Pacific Islanders have shown that their diets have become less diverse, more dependent on imported cereals, and show preference for vegetables introduced from outside with lower nutrient quality. Fruit and leaf vegtables use has been greatly reduced, with a consequent reduction in vitamin and mineral consumption.

Table 3
Estimates of Involvement in Forest Based Activities

Source (Country)Estimated Number of People Involved in Forest Enterprises
Van Buren, 1982 (India)+25% of the fuelwood used is sold in commerce, and as many as 15 million people(full time) are involved with market trade.
Agarwal, 1986 (India)2 to 3 million people are dependent on fuel-wood trade, earning an average Rs.5.50/day/20 kg. headload of fuelwood.
Surin and Badhuri,1980 (Chotanagpur,India)Fuelwood sales are an important source of income for 70% of forest-dweller households.
Hunter,1981(Madhya Pradesh)The collection of Tendu (Diospyros melan-oxylon) leaves for bidi cigarette wrapping employs ten million people part time in the off -peak agricultural season, and earns the state some $40 million in revenue.
Tewari,1982 (India)Tendu leaf collection provides about 90 days employment to 7.5 million people; a further 3 million people are employed in bidi processing industry; 3 million people are involved in lac(resin) production ; 735,000 people earn income from sericulture; 550,000 people are employed in bamboo -based craft enterprises.
Jha and Jha,1985 (India)126,000 households are involved in Tassar silk cultivation (of those100,000 are from Bihar).
Blair,1983 (Kerala,India)More than 300,000 people are involved in mat production from reeds.
Jalal-ud-Din,1984 (N.W.Pakistan)More than 3,000 families are involved in sericulture (raising silk worms), and over 3 million rupees is generated from the sale of cocon crop(the majority is purchased by Forest Department)
Fisseha,1987 (Zambia)25,000 people are involved in the fuelwood trade. There are more than 52,000 forest based small-scale processing enterprises, which employ 137,400 people.
(Sierra Leone)18,000 people are employed in FB-SSEs;
(Jamaica)10,200 people are employed in FB-SSEs.
Marks and Robbins, (Zambia)48,000 people are employed in charcoal production (36,000 of them are part-time charcoal producers and traders);
11,500 people are involved with bee-keeping; 96,000 households earn income from handicraft production.
Johnson and Nair,1985 (N.E.Brazil)Gathering forest products is a component of the agriculture cycle. In 1980, 18,000 tonnes of cashew nuts were gathered , and 18,000 tonnes of wax were collected from carnauha palm leaves.
Saadallah,1978 (Tunisia)The minor forest product trade provides 270,000 days employment a year.
Chetty,1985 (Kolar India)Gum collection uses 300,000 man days. There are an estimated 50,000 small-scale forest product processing enterprises.
20,000 people are involved in bamboo collection for local FB-SSEs.
Jambulingam,1986 (Tamil Nadu,India)The collection, processing and trade of Palmyrah products (sugar, wine and handicraftas) involves 28,000 household and generates Rs.120 million/year.
Kulkarny, 1983(India)30 million people are estimated to drive part of their livelihood from forest products.
Rao et al, 1978(India)More than 80,000 tonnes of myrobalan fruit (tannin production) are collected annually agriculturists and tribals, and 150,000 tonnes of other tannins are also collected. Workers earn between Rs.0-25-0.5/kg. for myrobalan fruit and 0.25-0.4/kg for tannin bark.
Mody-Etia, 1982 (Bos-Wouri,Cameroon)Palm wine production provides income for estimated 20,000 people from region (an estimated 6,000 tonnes/month enter commerce).
Forest Service, 1982 (Senegal)An estimated 700,000litres of palm wine enter commerce a year.
Engel et al. 1985 (Bo.Sierra Leone)60% of the farm households in the region process palm fruit and kernels for sale.
Kaye,1987 (Cote d'Ivoire) An estimated 65,000 people are involved in rattan cane basketry part -time while 1500 are involved full time.
Shiembo, 1986 (South-west Cameroon) 3,600 people are involved in raphia and rattan processing in the region
Source: Compiled by authors in FAO :" Household Food Security and Forestry. An Analysis of Socio-Economic Issues"(Draft) For full reference, please refer to the FAO draft. FAO,Rome,1989.

Hassan et al, in their important study of rural Bnaladesh (1985) found that while modern villagers, who grew three rice crops, had greater food availability throughout the seasons, thye suffered higher occurrence of malnutrition than those in traditional villages which only had two rice crops. Hassan, et al, surmised that this was due to a reduced diversity of foods in the diet, higher energy expenditure (because of third crop production) and poorer hygiene. Some interesting comparisons have been made. The modern villagersconsumed more rice and wheat and thus more calories, as well as more protein per capita per day, the traditrional villagers consumed more roots and tubers (89 gm/day/cap. compared with 26 gm/day/cap. before aus, one of the harvests), more pulses (21 gm/day/cap.,compared with 14 gm/day/cap.before aus), more vegetables (especially leafy vegtables) and more fruit (291 gm/day/cap. compared with 52 gm/day/cap.) Over the year, the mineral and vitamin content of the diet was significantly greater in the traditional compared with the modern villages.

A further area of concern related to nutrition and forests is the rapid vanishing of forest based medical products, that used to act as a pharmacy for tribals and the poor. Without commenting on the absolute effectiveness of these medicinal pools, it is a matter of concern especially when one reealises the alternative as posed by allopathic system does not reach tribals and poor sufficientlyand if it does is a source of a further set of dependencies which are economically draining to the poor and tribals.

A 'forest product' that has been increasingly in focus are fisheries (including shrimps,oysters, crabs, etc.). Mangrove forests play an important role as spawning grounds and sources of food for off-shore fisheries. In many parts of the world, however, mangroves are undergoing rapid destruction through the influence of large-scale acquaculture urbanisation, construction of upstream dams and irrigation schemes. We need a much better understanding of the complex dynamics of mangroves, and the ways of protecting the livelyhood of the many communities that depend on these fragile ecosystems. In additon to this, the effects on nutritional status of traditional fisherfold in Kerala and elsewhere due to onslaught of indiscriminate bottom sea trawling and use of pursein nets can only be imagined. Overall catch has been declining for years. Again here, it is the poor whose livelihood and food security is threatened.

Four of the most vulnerable groups, whose food security and nutritional status is affected by degradation of forests and foret based resources are: foresr dwellers and shifting cultivators, small farmers, landless families and pastoralists and herders. what can be done as short term and long term policy initiatives so that these groups are not further impoverished?

We present in Appendix1, the suggestions of a FAO consultation group that met in Trivandrum,India, during February,1988. In Appendix 1, we discuss the situation of landless families and pastoralists and herders, more to indicate the complexity of he problem rather than as prescriptions.

 

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