There is an old apocryphal story of an old women. She had lost a needle in a dark place. But she was searching where the light is. She is lampooned for this seemingly irrational act. True, under the lamp post, she would not find her needle but may be, she might find something else, may be somebody else’s needle lost there. May be the solutions to the problems of persistent and pervasive malnutrition will not be found in the areas where the darkness is, but answer may lie in the places where there is hope, despite other enabling conditions, the local communities have found a way of keeping their children healthy. We have suggested this shift in our approach to UNICEF as well as other public policy agencies and may be they will eventually learn this way.
During our shodhyatras in all the states at least once and in several states twice, we have found five micro-regions where malnutrition was almost absent. There is sufficient evidence that such regions exist in many other parts of the country also. Why not in addition to everything that state is doing, also focus on learning from Hotspots of sufficiency, the positive deviance? The Honey Bee Network has focused in almost all aspect of social life, on searching and spreading positive device, odd balls, the achievers who have solved a problem without outside help to begin with.
Kashmir Valley is one regions where malnutrition is almost absent, yes, you read it right, Kashmir.
We did not find malnourished children during shodhyatra in Anantnag and Gurej valley inhabited by the shina tribe, near Kargil. Almost every farmer has a small vegetable garden in Anantanag and in shina underground pits to store the same. The Mothers brestfeed the infant for 2-3 years, and incidentally, consumption of non-vegetarian food is not too frequent among poorer households.
Mahendragarh District, Haryana
Unlike the more economically developed regions of Harayana, Mahendragarh (where I started my own field work in 1978), did not have any malnutrition in the region we walked, nangal chuadhary block, narnaul region..
The mothers breastfed infants 2-3 year and sometimes upto 4 years if second child was delayed. Of course they also gave supplemental buttermilk and milk and bajra lapsi.
Bargarh District Odisha
We walk from Baripali region toward the Nrusinghanath, mountain adjoining some of the forest regions where we did not find any malnutrition. Small plots of vegetable in this tribal region was a pleasant site apart from any other social innovations.
North Andaman, north east, Sikkim, parts of uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh also did not have malnutrition.
District is too big a unit of analysis, there are micro-hotspots of sufficiency which need to be identified, facilitate interaction among mothers form malnutrition affected villages with mothers of healthy children, document the stories of positive deviance, build upon local biodiversity, nutritious weeds and other low cost and high impact supplements rather than only pills and manufactured supplements (which are difficult to access on a durable basis particularly in remote areas like ghadchiroli or bastar, and also bureaucratic reach is generally poor in these regions), and restore traditional foods, weaning as well as otherwise, and healthy practices, pay attention to cooking vessels (iron vis a vis aluminum) and practices of mid-day meal as well otherwise, then we have a viable, affordable and sustainable strategy.
But when effort to budget exhaustion ratio is high, public policy makers generally prefer polices which exhaust a lot of budget. Allocation of higher Budget for things rather than though ( that is local innovations) is the bane of Indian bureaucracy and the polity, international organizations often are no exception.