This exploratory study was taken up by Living Farms in the context of ongoing debates of how to ensure food and nutrition security for the most marginalized people in India. In spite of rapid economic growth in India in the last decade, a large number of people (42%), particularly women and children continue to be malnourished in the country.
The Public Distribution System (PDS), while widespread, has not reached the neediest or addressed the problem of malnutrition. This study examines forests as food producing habitats and its potential to meet the food and nutrition needs of Adivasi communities in Odisha. It also looks at the changes brought about by shifts in land use pattern.
It used a mixed methods approach in its objective to understand the issues around collection and consumption of uncultivated foods and the extent of dependence of adivasi / Indigenous communities on such food, for their food and nutrition security. While secondary literature shows increasing importance accorded by international academic and policy discourse to forest foods, it is seen that there is a serious dearth of research on numerous fronts within India on the subject. Even civil society work has largely ignored the importance of uncultivated foods in their contribution to food and nutrition security of adivasis.
Forests have rarely been looked at as food producing habitats in our policy discourse or implementation of any development efforts related to food security. This is the fundamental shift required, that this study points to. Uncultivated foods are in fact safe, diverse and nutritious food that is in several ways superior to the food security frameworks that rest on intensive agriculture paradigms in particular pockets of the country. The fact that the forest department has always focused on plantation revenues ignoring the real and imputed value of non timber forest produces and unmarketed forest foods has to be challenged.
In terms of a nutritional analysis, it is found that the forest foods could be playing a vital role in terms of micro- nutrients; however, it is seen that mainstream research has not focused on this aspect and our food/nutrition. The study makes recommendations to the Government of Odisha, Government of India and Civil Society to protect and develop forests as food producing habitats, along with Adivasi communities
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