Wild foods contribute to women’s higher dietary diversity in India, says study

The Indian School of Business (ISB) on June 26 said that a new research study has revealed that wild foods contribute to women’s, especially the tribal, higher dietary diversity in India and constitute a substantial contribution to food and nutrition security.

The study titled ‘Wild foods contribute to women’s higher dietary diversity in India’, published in the journal Nature Food, highlights the role of food items collected from forests and common lands in women’s diets in rural India.

The ISB in a statement said that as a part of the study, researchers collected monthly data on diet recall from 570 households across two tribal (Adivasi) dominated and forested districts in Jharkhand and West Bengal and found that wild food consumption significantly contributes to women’s diets, particularly during the months of June and July, when other crops are still in the growing stages in fields. 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) than those who did not collect wild foods.

The study is the result of a collaboration between researchers representing the ISB, South Dakota State University (USA), Humboldt University (Germany), University of Michigan (U.S.), Manchester University (U.K.); 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% of the 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 findings suggest that consumption of wild foods is important to vulnerable women in tribal (Adivasi) areas, particularly during June and July when other crops are still in the growing stages in fields.

Professor Ashwini Chhatre, co-author of the study and Executive Director, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, (ISB), said: “Wild foods are known as delicacies that only rich people can afford, truffles and morels being cases in point. But we know very little about how much poor people depend on them, and how critical these wild foods are to nutrition security of forest-dwelling communities. Our study has revealed the tip of a massive opportunity iceberg. These wild foods and knowledge associated with their distribution, seasonality, and abundance needs to be included in analysis of food systems and interventions to improve nutrition. When climate shocks destroy rainfed crops in forested regions, it is wild foods that stabilize food consumption for the poorest households”.

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