This special article in EPW is based on an assessment of agricultural practices and livelihoods of people in Vidarbha, one of the most distressed regions in India.
Using the data generated from a baseline survey on a sample of 6,990 households covering six districts, this paper attempts to assess the relationships between agriculture, food security and nutrition for children, adolescents and married women of reproductive age.
The study indicates that
- Overall under-nutrition amongst children, adolescents and married women in the study area is substantial and it does not differ significantly between different socio-economic groups. Severe under-nutrition amongst all the groups is only moderate.
- Households with large cultivated holding (medium and large farmers with more than 10 acres) are no better than households with small or marginal cultivated holding or even landless households in containing under-nutrition among children, adolescents and ever married women.
- Religion and caste-class also do not show any relationship with nutritional status of children. Per capita income of households shows the same pattern of relationship with nutritional status.
- A consistent relationship was observed between the per capita expenditure on food items and the nutritional status of children, adolescents and ever married women. The relationship is that other things being equal, the higher the expenditure on food items, lower the proportion of children, adolescents and ever married women undernourished.
- The public distribution system contributes significantly to the food security of poor families and it must be extended to include families above the poverty line as well.
- With respect to the relationship between agriculture and nutrition the data indicates that the higher the food crop production, lower the under-nutrition. It must be noted, that food crop diversity is very limited and is confined to a small proportion of farmers. A large proportion of farmers opting for commercial (cash) crops instead of food crops but still facing malnutrition implies that this visible change in agricultural patterns as such cannot be taken as an indicator of better nutritional status of household members.
- It also indicates a need for greater research on the role of whether the adoption of food crops in areas facing nutrition problems is advisable, how price effects in production and consumption are affected by changing agricultural patterns.
- There is also a need to interrogate whether increased production of food crops at the local level will mitigate price effects, and whether this will in turn benefit the general populace.
- Finally, a gendered analysis of access to productive resources, decision-making powers and intra-household allocation of work responsibilities is also needed to draw clearer linkages.
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