Urban Food Hive Project: Nourish The Cities

Urban Food Hive Project: Nourish The Cities

Her fingers demonstrate deftness at odds with her age, as she tirelessly peels clove after clove of garlic from the lot spread in front of her. Her daughter-in-law joins in too. With a family of eight to feed, deteriorating health does not deter Shabnam Parveen from sitting long hours every day, trying to peel her way out of poverty.

“It is difficult to afford nutritious, balanced meals for so many people on a meagre daily wages of Rs 40,” she says. She receives Rs 40 for a full day of peeling garlic; she is able to peel 2 kgs a day. Shabnam’s four grandchildren are often sick and her daughter-in-law, part of India’s period-poverty story, risks infection and diseases on account of not being able to afford sanitary napkins. The only other earning member of Shabnam’s family is her husband, who makes a paltry sum by selling slippers; her son is unemployed. The future of her grandchildren constantly plays on her mind.

Ayyub, a father of a five year old girl, too faces the same dilemma. He developed breathing problems because of which he couldn’t continue selling coconut. They are dependent on his wife, Shabana’s income of about Rs 5000 a month. She is a housekeeper. The money isn’t enough to provide nutritious meals. This has in fact proven detrimental to the child’s health who has stunted growth and is very often ill.

Shabnam and Ayyub are among thousands sharing a similar fate in the DJ Halli slum in Bengaluru. Nicknamed as the “Dharavi of Bengaluru” DJ Halli is home to over 80,000 people, 90% of whom are informal labourers.

A Bangalore Municipality Corporation Survey in DJ Halli indicates that adolescent girls and women at risk of severe anaemia. Poverty and lack of awareness means that children below five years of age face high chances of developing chronic nutritional deficiencies, sometimes leading to stunting. Both men and women are exposed to the risks of developing hypertension, diabetes and obesity. With many households still without toilet facilities, the menstrual and sanitary hygiene remains a significant challenge.

Oxfam India has started a pioneering initiative in the Roshannagar slum, a major slum cluster identified within DJ Halli, with a population of 4500. The “Urban Food Hive: Nourish the Cities” project is an introduction to a community-based food security system that ensures low-cost nutrition, WASH interventions, and addresses strategic gender needs such as menstrual hygiene in an urban slum. This is a community-based initiated lead by few community mobilisers from DJ Halli area.

The initiative has few major steps and the first was to start with a Minimum Dietary Diversity-Women (MDDW) survey in 120 randomly sampled households in Roshannagar with women and girls between age of 15 to 49 years. "This has given us a basic idea about the current level of food and nutrition consumption in the slums mainly by women and girls. The community mobilizers, in the next step have done a local market mapping and availability of locally available nutritious foods," says Ranjana Das, lead, Private Sector Engagement.  

Previous interventions in the communities have focused largely on distribution of food, specifically rice (and very less protein), rather than on nutrition. Oxfam India has set up community-driven volunteer groups at the DJ Halli slum that will offer interventions through community resources and volunteers.

One cluster-level resource centres have been established targeted towards women and girls and will provide training to community members on low-cost nutrition and WASH practices through participatory learning processes. Post MDD-W survey, the community mobilizers will now have a baseline of 120 women and girls on their height, weight and anaemia levels before they start the nutrition sessions.

What makes the Food Hive project more organic is the fact that the community mobilisers are locals who are trained by an efficient team of experienced nutrition experts, trainers, and local community leaders to spread the required awareness through a series of trainings.

Meet Sana Mehreen, Nida Fathima Aleem, Nikhat Begum and Tasmiya Tabassum — Nida works on the project as the Junior Nutritionist, is a young 21-year-old graduate in Composite Home Science from Bengaluru. Both Nikhat and Tasmiya, also 21, hold commerce degrees from BET Sadathunnisa Degree College.

As Nida navigates through her new role, she is excited to ‘communicate with people in the communities’ and by relating to their situations she ‘can understand their eating patterns and identify the missing elements that can make their meals healthier’.

The 2021 Global Hunger Index (GHI) ranks India 101 out of 116 countries. The report states ‘no progress has been made towards achieving the target of reducing anaemia among women of reproductive age, with 53.0% of women aged 15 to 49 years now affected… India has shown limited progress towards achieving the diet-related non-communicable disease targets. The country has shown no progress towards achieving the target for obesity’. As the world accelerates its efforts in achieving the SDG on Zero Hunger by 2030, Food Hive is an important step at pushing the agenda in the most marginalized communities of urban India.

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