Wild foods boost adivasi women’s nutrition: Study

HYDERABAD: In what could lend impetus to India’s efforts to curb malnutrition, especially among adivasi women, a new research study has revealed that wild foods contribute to women’s higher dietary diversity in India and make for a substantial contribution to food and nutrition security.

The study – “Wild foods contribute to women’s higher dietary diversity in India” – is the cover story of the June issue of the popular journal ‘Nature Food’. It demonstrates the role of food items collected from forests and common lands in women’s diets in rural India.

As part of the study, researchers collected monthly data on diet from 570 households across two Adivasi-dominated and forested districts in Jharkhand and West Bengal. They found that wild food consumption significantly contributes to women’s diets, particularly during the months of June and July. Results of the study revealed that women who consumed wild foods had higher average dietary diversity scores (13% and 9% higher in June and July, respectively) and were more likely to consume nutrient-rich, dark green leafy vegetables than those who did not collect wild foods.

The study is the result of collaboration between researchers representing the Indian School of Business (ISB); South Dakota State University, USA; Humboldt University, Germany; University of Michigan, USA; Manchester University, UK; and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. The results put a spotlight on the need to have public policies that promote knowledge of wild foods and protect people’s rights to access forests and common lands as an instrument to improve nutrition.

The research reports that 40 per cent of women in the study group never met the minimum dietary diversity over the one-year period, thus highlighting the dire need to address poor diets. The research emphasised the importance of protecting the access of local communities to forests and other natural resources for improved food security and nutrition. It also provides an additional reason for the protection of forests and associated indigenous knowledge.

While scholars recognise that the poorest Adivasi households and those living in forested areas depend heavily on wild-collected food items, policy debates and interventions have exclusively focused on farm-produced food. By providing quantitative evidence on the critical contribution of wild-collected food, the study provides a healthy option to the policymakers to ensure qualitative nutrition for the rural poor.

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