Contribution of indigenous foods to address malnutrition in Indian tribal communities: Study

Study done by the Nutrition team at the George Institute India as part of the intermediate fellowship of Suparna Ghosh-Jerath, under the DBT Wellcome trust India Alliance

Nutrition researchers at The George Institute for Global Health India have disseminated the findings of a comprehensive research study that assessed the indigenous food systems of vulnerable tribal communities in Jharkhand and their contribution towards the food security and nutritional status of these communities.

Four tribal communities were assessed: Santhal, Munda, Ho, and Sauria Paharia, and the observations and inferences have been presented in numerous research papers and conferences. On 24th April 2023, a dissemination seminar was held at the Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee University, Ranchi, to share the study findings with the university students, and stakeholders like the NGOs working in health and nutrition, International Development organizations, academia amongst others.

The study found that while the tribal communities had traditional ecological knowledge about a variety of indigenous foods, the consumption of these foods among women and children in all communities was inadequate with poor nutrient intake.

Vitamin A and iron deficiency was observed among women of the Sauria Paharia and Santhal communities. Among the Munda women, there was poor intake of all nutrients except protein and vitamin C, while the Ho community had inadequate intake of all nutrients except for Vitamin A, Vitamin C, thiamin, and niacin. A high prevalence of wasting, stunting, and low weight was observed in young children in all the tribes. 

The research also analysed the value chains of finger millet and Koinaar leaves among some of the Indigenous communities. The study identified postharvest losses, laborious processes, and weather dependence as barriers towards production and consumption of finger millet, while limited seasonal availability and lack of preservation techniques were associated with reduced production and processing of Koinaar leaves. Improving storage, processing machinery, preservation techniques, and market opportunities could enhance production and consumption of these nutrient-rich indigenous foods.

The team of researchers from George Institute recommend that in addition to increasing the demand for locally produced foods, it is important to promote the creation of community seed banks for distributing indigenous seeds, educating indigenous communities on sustainable farming methods to preserve local landraces and drought-resistant varieties, and supporting communities in establishing home gardens.

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