Organic Kitchen Gardens Improve Nutritional Well-Being
Women federations are the nodal beneficiary group under the Civic Engagement Alliance program around which activities were planned to create ground level evidence. Through several rounds of capacity building training since the beginning of the program, the women leaders realized the need of advocacy and lobby at their local levels by submission of representation in the Gram Panchayats.
Women federations lobby for kitchen gardens
As a part of effort to collect evidence to support their lobby and advocacy activities at the block and district level in Assam, women federations started to assess the Anganwadi centres on the functioning of the Integrated Child Development Scheme program in their respective areas. During this exercise, the women federations identified a few centres where they saw the scope to develop organic kitchen/nutrition gardens to produce fresh vegetables for nutritive value in addition to the hot cooked meals served to the children.
To convince the Anganwadi Management Committees, the Federation first developed and demonstrated five kitchen gardens at the Anganwadi centres and at community level in five different Gaon Panchayats. The District Agriculture Department provided seeds and saplings - which was also a result of the lobby and advocacy efforts of the federation leaders with the department.
Once the kitchen gardens started producing vegetables which were used in the hot cooked meals for the children, the federations started lobby and advocacy activities with district and block level stakeholders mainly with the District Administration, Social Welfare Department, and Panchayat and Rural Development to incorporate the kitchen garden model in the planning process of the departments at block and district level.
Initially two gardens were developed in Anganwadi centres in Goalpara district during November-December 2018. Soon in January and February 2019, five more gardens started functioning and were showcased as a workable model. Following this same model, gardens at the other Civic Engagement Alliance project districts-Dhubri, Morigaon, Sonitpur, Darrang also started. This has been a significant achievement of the Federation members as their model is considered as a best practice to be replicated by both the Social Welfare Department and the Panchayat and Rural Development Department. In some of the project districts the Federation members have been incorporated as members of the Panchayat Level Planning Teams.
The success of the Nutrition/Kitchen Garden initiated by the Women Federation members furthermore has been shared and discussed at various forums and as part of important state level consultations and meetings on food and nutrition security in the state.
Officials interested in model
In 2019 (May to July ) the coordinators of the Civic Engagement Alliance program were invited to several policy level meetings on food and nutrition security at multi stakeholder level. They shared the exemplary work being done by the Women’s Federations in the project districts.
At a policy seminar on frontline workers and women federations for improving child nutrition, health and early childhood development in Assam, a presentation on the kitchen/nutrition garden model by the Civic Engagement Alliance project coordinator at State level caught the attention of the Addl Chief Secretary, Social Welfare, Government of Assam. The meeting was being attended by the senior officials of all stakeholder departments including the Social Welfare Department and Panchayat and Rural Development and others. Impressed with the model, Mr. Jishnu Baruah asked for a list of centres with functional or starting gardens. District officials of the Social Welfare Department and ICDS program visited already developed kitchen gardens at Goalpara and instructed the Anganwadi Workers of the Centres (where such kitchen gardens had yet not been developed), to ask the Federation leaders to start the kitchen gardens in their respective Centres.
Nutrigardens in development plans
Following these Civic Engagement Alliance lobby activities the Panchayat and Rural Development Department, the Government of Assam instructed the top functionaries of the Zila Parishad, Anchalik Panchayat and Goan Panchayat through a circular issued in the month of October to develop kitchen gardens at community level. It was also mentioned in the circular that nutrigarden should be a part of the Gram Panchayat development plan. This was a part of the Department’s initiative to improve the nutrition status of the state. The circular has also been issued to the Deputy Commissioners of the districts end September 2019.
100 Kitchen gardens
Federation leaders (who have been instrumental in driving the kitchen/nutrition garden initiative) have been invited by the Panchayat and Rural Development Department to be part of the Gaon Panchayat Facilitators team. During the flagging off of the Poshan Maah (National Nutrition Month) program in Assam, the State Chief Minister, Mr. Sarbanand Sonowal also made public the plan of his Government to develop 100 kitchen gardens in the Anganwadi Centres of the state with active support from women based organizations like the Women Federations. The concerned government departments Policies and Planning is now making way for active involvement of the Women Federations from implementation to policy level.