Global experts report that a child’s early years are critical to the rest of life. Proper nutrition and brain stimulation improve physical growth and learning ability, while the absence of proper care and feeding in the first 1,000 days can lead to stunting, poor school performance and lower earnings as an adult.
In the last few decades, we have seen an increase in the number of countries investing in social protection programs. These programs help individuals and families especially the poor and vulnerable cope with crises and shocks, invest in the health and education of their children, supporting young people by developing their skills and finding jobs, and protecting the aging population.
In India, animal husbandry and dairying are important economic activities accounting for approximately 33 percent of the agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP). India is the largest producer of milk having achieved an annual production of 146.3 million tons in 2014-15. As the economy grows and income increases, a World Bank study points out, per capita consumption for milk and milk products in the country is projected to rise to more than 350 grams per day by 2020.
Dairying is also a major source of livelihood for approximately 80 percent of small and marginal farmers in India (typically owning one to three milk producing animals) who contribute approximately 70 percent to the total milk production. In addition, women play an extremely critical role in multifarious dairying activities at the household level in both rural and urban areas. The country’s livestock sector is one of the largest in the world with 56.7% and 12.5% of world’s buffaloes and cattle respectively.
An important milestone in the significant growth of the dairy sector in the past decades has been a series of ‘Operation Flood Programs’ spearheaded by the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) through promotion of dairy cooperatives across the country. In addition, the World Bank funded National Dairy Plan 1 (NDP) run by the NDDB for the period 2011-12 to 2017-18, is a scientifically planned multi-state initiative. It aims at increasing the productivity of milch animals and providing rural milk producers greater access to the organized milk-processing sector. It is estimated that only 30 percent of the marketable surplus is sold to the organized sector. Small producers in rural areas, who account for 70 percent of milk production, are particularly affected.
During a recent visit to Barsam village in the Saharsa district of Bihar, I talked with members of a women’s self-help group - one of over 480,000 such groups formed under Jeevika, a rural livelihoods program supported by the World Bank in Bihar.
Among the group was nineteen year old Shobha. Like millions of girls across the country, Shobha had never been to school. She was married at fifteen, and now has a ten-month old daughter. Shobha sat among us, cradling little Anjali on her lap.
I was happy to hear that, when she was pregnant, Shobha enrolled herself at the local Aanganwadi center which offered nutrition and health services for both mother and child under a public program. At the center, Shobha learnt how to care for Anjali. As a result, the child was exclusively breastfed for six months and received all the necessary immunizations. Now the little girl is being correctly fed a diverse diet of vegetables, pulses, cereals and animal milk, while continuing to be breastfed.
But my happiness was only momentary. As we talked, it emerged that Anjali was only being given a spoonful or two at most of these foods. While the amounts were far from adequate, Shobha thought they were enough for a child of Anjali’s age. And, all the other women agreed.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week calls attention to the powerful link between investing in breastfeeding and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
This blog first appeared in the New York Times on June 20, 2016.
Nutrition is not only fundamental to an individual’s cognitive and physical growth, it is also the cornerstone of all development efforts, whether improving education, health, income or equality, at home or abroad. And the most important time for good nutrition is in the 1,000 days from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to the second birthday of her child. What happens in those first days determines to a large extent the course of a child’s life – his or her ability to grow, learn, work, succeed – and, by extension, the long-term health, stability and prosperity of the society in which that child lives.
The world is still recovering from the financial and food crises of 2008. A key response, especially in developing countries, was to scale up school feeding programs.
Our Green Competitiveness Launchpad team is looking at agriculture supply chains in Bangladesh and how they’re affected by climate change – as farmers change the crops they plant owing to drought or flooding. As a result, we’ve been exploring the supply chains of a number of crops from guavas to sunflower and mung beans.
There’s a fascinating infographic from CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) that illustrates the geographical diversity of the common foods we eat every day. It shows that the globalization of food began centuries ago. Many cultures incorporate foods that originated thousands of miles away. For example, sunflower originated in North America and is now widely produced in Eastern Europe, and guava originated in Central America and is now mainly produced in South Asia.
‘Stunted children today means stunted economies tomorrow.’ This sentiment, recently expressed by African Development Bank President Akin Adesina, encapsulates the sea change in how malnutrition is now viewed by global actors. Mr. Adesina was speaking at an event to launch a new global investment framework called Investing in Nutrition, co-authored by the World Bank and Results for Development Institute, which firmly establishes the importance of nutrition as a foundational part of development.
One of the projects I was proudest of getting off the ground while in (nominal) charge of Oxfam’s research team was ‘Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility’, a four year study of the impact of the chaotic food prices of recent years on the lives of poor people and communities in rural and urban communities in ten countries. DFID funded it (thanks!), and IDS were our main research partners. Ace Oxfam researcher Richard King worked his socks off managing the project, before going off to a well-earned rest at Chatham House. Now the project has published its findings in a special issue of the IDS Bulletin. And it’s free online, because unlike lots of other journals, IDS has taken the Academic Spring seriously and has gone full open access (but that’s a topic for another rant).
The research is fairly unique because we went back to the same communities year after year to see how the food price story unfolded, and combined this micro level research with macro number crunching to try and put together a more complete story than usual about how a global phenomenon like the food price spike of 2008 (and subsequent price volatility) fed through into poor people’s lives and then affected the wider society. In her article on the research methodology, Naomi Hossain (the brains behind a lot of it) captures this analytical framework in a diagram.