The mountainous community has been at the receiving end of numerous hardships and health issues. Underweight and malnourished children, anaemic girls and increasing immunity deficiency amongst women are just a few problems amidst the mountain of critical health problems that affect the members of mountainous communities. With an increasing reliance on the consumer market and the produce that is obtained through extensive inorganic farming, these problems have worsened even more. Noodles, Maggie, and other fast foods that have gained huge popularity through the medium of Television ads has gravely affected the already depleting diet diversity and nutritional intake of children. As green vegetables, fruits and other traditional cuisines have started to disappear from the diet of both the young and adults, mountain communities are faced with the dual challenge of a fading culture and an unhealthy society.
It was in light of these pressing issues that I set about working in hopes of improving the nutritional status of my own children, family including that of my village community of Kujoli Village in Hawalbagh Block of Uttarakhand. Farming has been a challenge in the mountainous regions, something that has been further aggravated by the changing climatic conditions, animal menace, and scattered land holdings. Thus, sustainability solely through farming has proved a challenge especially for small scale farmers. I was able to understand these complexities through my participation in the NMA II program with the help of Lok Chetna Manch and the different capacity building trainings and community meetings that they organised. Maintaining a stable income without practising an agriculture that was diverse and organic had increasingly become difficult which was being reflected in the poor nutritional status of not only my family but also in the community. With regards to this I signed up to undertake building of a backyard kitchen garden as a micro intervention in hopes of reducing my reliance on market produce and work towards being self-reliant. By having a backyard kitchen garden, I could ensure the quality of the seed, the crop and also use organic ways of farming all adding up to a quality produce.
(Leela Rana in her Backyard Kitchen Garden)
With the help of line department, I was able to obtain fences for my backyard at a minimal cost which ensured that no wild animal could enter the field and destroy the crops that I planted. Having obtained the knowledge of integrated farming and the numerous benefits that it has, I also started poultry and dairy farming activities. This allowed me to have a robust form of agriculture which ensured diet diversity and an increased nutritional status for my family. Adding different forms of farming activities to my agriculture ensured that I could sustain the family and its nutritional requirements without depending on the market produce whose quality was uncertain and was also at a significant distance from the village. In addition to this the kitchen garden along with my poultry and diary slowly began yielding produce in surplus which I could then sell within the village thus adding another source of income apart from what I could obtain from selling produce of the field.
(Leela Rana with her cows)
The success of my venture encouraged my fellow women as well to incorporate at least some of the farming practises that I practised in their lives as well. Poultry, Dairy and organic farming along with backyard kitchen gardens began being practised within the community with the members beginning to understand the value of integrated and organic farming. Speaking with the women of my village I began explaining them the importance of diet diversity and the need of cultivating traditional crops and grains such as black soy bean, horse gram, barley, amaranth, barnyard millet, finger millet etc. Coarse grains and traditional cuisines of the mountainous regions are extremely rich in nutrients when compared to more popular crops such as wheat and paddy. In addition to this they are also less susceptible to climatic fluctuations and unpredictable rainfall. This helps the farmers of the mountainous regions specifically as they are extremely vulnerable to rainfall patterns which often become a deciding factor in the final produce. Growing traditional crops and coarse grains is also culturally significant for the mountainous communities as they help preserve the fading culture and identity which connects the communities to their ancestors and roots. Such discussions with the community members during meeting and capacity building trainings organised by Lok Chetna Manch encouraged the women of my village to come together and form a SHG through which the women formed a community run dairy headed by me. Every morning women from the village come to the collection centre at my home and submit the milk from their home after keeping enough of it for themselves and their families. The amount of milk submitted by each person is recorded and sold to Anchal Dairy. Towards the end of the month Anchal Dairy adds money for the milk in the account of the SHG which we then divide amongst each other. This way the entire community has added an additional source of income for itself along with boosting its nutritional status and ensuring that women and kids consume it in healthy amounts.
Amidst the uncertainties of farm produce in the mountainous regions and the depleting nutritional status and diet diversity, practising a sustainable organic agriculture that ensures self-sufficiency amongst the members of the farming community has greatly helped the members of my village. By having such a robust system, we have been able to enhance our nutritional status, especially that of our children and women who are worst affected due to the poor diet diversity and nutrition deficient produce of the market. Capacity building trainings organised under the NMA II program have further helped us in adding various sources of income though integrated farming practises, a result of which has been a better more healthy community in the Kujoli Village.