Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Women in Agriculture: Beacons of Hope from MSSRF-LANSA Projects

The panel discussion hosted by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation's (MSSRF) Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) programme on the occasion of International Women's Day 2017 (#IWD2017) highlighted the year's theme #BeBoldForChange by presenting the success stories from their projects. It was held on March 10, 2017, at the MSSRF Auditorium in their Taramani campus in Chennai.

The event kicked off with the screening of the short animation film from LANSA on South Asia: Women in Agriculture - the Nutrition Connection launched by the programme on occasion of IWD2017 on March 8th.

Special Address: Director of Social Welfare, Govt. of Tamil Nadu, Dr V. Amuthvalli IAS, formerly the head of the Tamil Nadu Women's Development Corporation delivered a special address on the IWD2017 theme #BeBoldForChange. She highlighted the need for balance, especially nutritional balance in intensive farming.
Note: Dr. Vandana Siva the famous seed conservationist and environmental activist, whose mother was a farmer, in a talk also mentioned the fact that with traditional mixed and intensive organic farming the nutrition value increases exponentially. 

Dr.  Amuthvalli also highlighted the TN govt.'s women centric programmes that have been empowering women for decades now. Self Help Groups (SHG) concept originated in TN in the 1970s and has evolved into women farmer groups and called for "catalytic" interventions that improved the lot of the poor, especially the poor women in rural settings. Another success story highlighted was how TN curbed maternal mortality by incentivising institutional delivery. Employing women in MNREGA in child care centres would add value to the programme. All it calls for is to recognize child caring under the "unskilled labour" list.

Interaction takeaways:
Anaemia is a major challenge and there is resistance to take the iron pills due to side effects. In such a situation noon meals and dietary supplements could be greens and grams (roasted and bengal gram). Good hygiene and WASH programmes also can alleviate the nutritional deficiency. It was also mentioned that an NGO in Ooty has countered the anaemia in the community by encouraging consumption of greens and grams grown in community gardens. The noon meal scheme covers over a crore beneficiaries and is first step to counter nutritional deficiencies in children

The presentations and panel discussion was moderated byDr Prakash Shetty, CEO, LANSA Research Programme Consortium. The panel consisted of Dr. Farhat Saiyed, Nutrition Specialist UNICEF, TN state team; Dr. Nitya Rao, Gender Lead - LANSA programme, and Professor of Gender & Development, University of East AngliaDr. R. Rukmani, Director - Food Security, MSSRF; Dr. S. Velvizhi, Coordinator - Fish for All Training Centre, MSSRF.

Stories of Change & Hope: Presentations -  My Takeaways

Dr. Farhat Saiyed highlighted successful UNICEF programmes and challenges in Bihar, TN and Kerala.

Dr. Nitya Rao’s talk highlighted findings from her research in Odisha and Maharashtra while calling for preserving and encouraging the sustainable livelihoods of tribes. The availability of unhealthy and cheap food options that don't take time to make but are unhealthy is a challenge to rural farming communities during the labour intensive harvest times. The high cost of nutritious foods especially fruits and vegetables also causes the nutritional deficiency. Community gardens and kitchen gardens could be the solution to this problem.

  Dr. R. Rukmani: My takeaway from Dr. Rukmani's talk was the fact that a programme to empower the widows and families of farmer suicides evolved into a holistic and sustainable livelihood project.
Dr. S. Velvizhi concentrated on Sustainable Fisheries "Fish for all; Fish forever"; Market access for value added product; Sales van inaugurated on IWD2017 in Bengaluru; Integrated fishing, farming and poultry farms have been set up under the aegis of MSSRF. Tunnel solar dryers for fish helped improve quality and prices for processed dry fish. 

Interaction with the audience led to information on the need to preserve uncultivated food sources via sustainable forestry and tribal empowerment; call for at least short term rural immersion fellowship for researches in agriculture and other technologies so that technology develops with a rural connect. There was also a call to recognize and highlight the ecology and nutrition connect - a healthy environment and a pristine ecology produces healthier populations.

 Panel: (L-R): Dr. S. Velvizhi, Dr. R. Rukmini, Dr. Prakash Shetty, Dr. Nithya Rao, Dr. Farhat Saiyed;
In the foreground  Dr. M.S. Swaminathan.

The session concluded with succinct observations by MSSRF founder Dr. Swaminathan.

"Opportunity from calamities" e.g., 2004 tsunami gave the region the state of the art fish processing centre funded by the Tatas.

 Building self-esteem is the first step to empowerment.

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