UP's Drive to Tackle Malnutrition Suffers From Poor Execution

Chicks were distributed to families in Chitrakoot to incorporate eggs into their diet. The government did not provide aid or information on raising the birds.

Chitrakoot, UP: In May 2018, the villages of Koniya and Bargah in Chitrakoot saw a unique kind of government welfare scheme in action: families were handed varying numbers of baby chicks as a part of a new drive to tackle malnutrition.

“We were told these chicks were being given to us because when they start laying eggs, we can incorporate it into our daily diets to prevent diseases and have better health,” said Koniya resident Chandrakala, who got 50 chicks as part of the scheme. “They also said that we should take good care of the chicks to make sure they grow well and then we can sell them in the market for additional income,” she added.

Virtually every survey in the recent past has highlighted the nutrition crisis in India – from the National Family Health Survey 4 to the Global Nutrition Report 2016 and the Global Hunger Index 2017. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, particularly struggles with nutrition.

According to the NFHS 4, only 5% of children aged between 6 and 23 months in rural UP receive an adequate diet. In fact, 18% of children under the age of 5 are wasted; 41% are underweight. Even amongst adults, the lack of adequate nutrition is apparent: 28.1% of women and 29.1% of men have BMIs below normal.

The state and Central governments have made several interventions to address the problem of poor nutrition, including the State Nutrition Mission (SNM-UP), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the National Nutrition Mission (NNM), with an approved three-year budget of more than Rs 9,000 crores. This scheme seems like another attempt to tackle the problem.

“Under this initiative we gave 45 chicks to each family,” explained Dr D.K. Pande, the deputy chief veterinary officer in Chitrakoot. “We first gave them 25 chicks and then in maybe February or March we will give them the rest of the 20 chicks.” For their upkeep, he said, “ Rs 1,500 will also be credited to a bank account in the family.”

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While on paper this may seem like a viable scheme – after all, eggs are a great source of protein and other essential nutrients, and hens tend to lay eggs almost everyday – the lack of foresight or even planning became apparent in conversations with some of its beneficiaries.

“The chicks were distributed to us during the summer and most of them died,” said Noorjahan from Koniya. “If I recall correctly, only 14 survived; now, I only have one cock and four hens.”

Chandrakala, too, faced a similar problem. “Seven or eight survived,” she said, “The rest fell ill and died.” Our reporter found out that no facilities were made for the beneficiaries to access veterinary care at the local animal hospital.

Manmohan, in Bargah, said only two or three chicks survived. “We don’t know to what end these chicks will be useful,” he said, laughing uncomfortably, “We’re only still raising them.”

Raising them is not an easy task. Chickens require good feed, water, space and attention in order to thrive – all of which require the families to redirect their scarce resources. Even the Rs 1,500 Dr. Pande mentioned wasn’t transferred to any bank accounts. “Just one sack of fodder and 50 chicks, that’s all,” said Chandrakala.

And perhaps the biggest problem in the execution of this scheme – which doesn’t even exist on the UP animal husbandry department’s website – is the lack of information dissemination. “Yes we will use the eggs,” said Manmohan half-heartedly, “But we don’t know how to take care of the surviving chickens.”

In a confounding move, the chicks distributed in May seemed to target villages with a large lower caste population, like Koniya and Bargah. “This initiative was for families from all categories, there was no relation to caste,” insisted Dr Pande.

“It was for families belonging to general castes, OBCs and SC/STs.” And while food is never apolitical, especially not when it comes to caste, this is exemplary of the befuddled execution of this strange governmental welfare scheme.

Khabar Lahariya is a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh.