Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative

Agricultural pathways to better nutrition and poverty reduction

The first round of MNDA dietary diversity data collection concludes: reflections from Dokur village (Andhra Pradesh)

July 15, 2014 by · No Comments · Community Participation, data collection training, Dietary Diversity, India Rural Poor, MNDA, Rural Diets, TCi Field Notes

Christian DiRado-Owens, a TCi intern and Cornell University student, reflects on the first round of data collection in the field. Christian, in addition to four other interns and staff, are hard at work pilot testing the dietary diversity module of the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture (MNDA). Read a synthesis of TCi’s work in creating a minimum set of nutrition metrics for use in agriculture surveys here or previous field-update from TCi intern Katy Merkel… 

Christian DiRado-Owens (left, TCi) and Swathi (right, ICRISAT) speak with women from Dokur, in Andhra Pradesh. (Photo credit: DiRado-Owens, TCi)

This week the TCi team left the ICRISAT headquarters to officially begin the first of two rounds of data collection. The team traveled to two villages in Andhra Pradesh: Aurepalle and Dokur, located just over two hours from Hyderabad. Our purpose is to evaluate and validate the use of a module within the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture (MNDA) tool that attempts to capture dietary diversity. Using a simplified methodology and focusing on women (ages 18-45) responsible for cooking, the MNDA attempts to capture a household-level and individual level dietary diversity score. Over the last week two teams completed a total of 66 dietary diversity surveys with women from various income levels, castes and classes. Amrita Rao, another TCi intern, and I were stationed in Dokur while Andy Pike, Katy Merkel, and Alex Cordova (the other three TCi interns) were stationed out of Aurepalle.

Arriving in Dokur and facilitating group discussions about diet

Upon arrival in Dokur, Amrita and I met with our investigators — Vidya and Swathi — who would be translating back and forth between English and Telegu during our household interviews and focus group discussions. Along with another ICRISAT intern named Asha, we held our focus group discussions on a multipurpose purple, green, and orange mat. On this mat, we slept, organized our materials, took our meals from our sweet home-stay cook Yadamma, and spent the majority of our down time when the village women were working and not available to meet. Together, Amrita and I held three focus group discussions and conducted 28 household surveys from Monday through Friday.

The first focus group discussion consisted of both men and women for a total of ten villagers, while the second consisted of only women for a count of eight from the forward and backward castes. The purpose of our focus group discussions (FGDs) was to validate our food groups, familiarize ourselves with local dishes to inform what we should probe for in the household surveys, and to validate the assumptions our survey implicitly made regarding meal frequencies and times, cooking responsibilities, and foods cooked on special days, etc. The FGDs were helpful in familiarizing ourselves with local dishes, though we did not find much variation in the responses between focus groups. The biggest variation was in response to food preference and who ate first: the mixed group reported that children have first priority, followed by men, then women. In the female-only group, some participants reported that children have first priority and others reported that men do. The female-only group indicated that women always ate last. In the FGD with villagers from the scheduled caste, however, there was consensus that men have first priority, followed by children, then women.

Migration makes things messy: especially when identifying a household dietary proxy

The MNDA is  organized around the assumption that the women who cooks for the household (someone between 18-45) could plausibly be a proxy for the household diet, given that she herself was a member of the household and that she cooked the food eaten by the majority of the members of the household. We, however, found a few exceptions. For example, one women in our sample population had just returned from an extended period of time (the greater part of a year) living and working in Hyderabad to send remittances home and earn supplemental income for the family. Although this woman met all of the selection requirements, she clearly could not be a proxy for the household as she would neither be eating nor cooking the same foods as the rest of the family who remained in the village while she was away. While others in our individual survey respondents did not fall into this category, it was clear that finding the household cook did not mean that she was always the ideal respondent. We asked the first question during our focus group discussion with the women from the scheduled caste, and learned that a  portion of the female population in Dokur migrated for extended periods of time and came back based on seasonal opportunities (in agriculture). Interestingly, when we asked who assumes the household cooking responsibilities when the women (and the men) are away, most informants said that the children take over.

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Amrita Rao (left corner, TCi) listens during a mixed, male-female focus group discussion about diets in Dokur, Andhra Pradesh. (Photo credit: DiRado-Owens, TCi)

Dokur, however, exists in some unique circumstances. Due to the impacts of persisting drought over the last thirty (and specifically 12 years) with low investment power and low capital, agricultural production has declined greatly and families are looking elsewhere for supplementary income. Coupled with Dokur’s relatively isolated location (in relation to Hyderabad) in the district of Mahbubnagar, Dokur’s out-migration rates have increased dramatically. Due to the distance and expense of traveling to Hyderabad, many migrants opt (or are forced) to stay for longer periods of time in or around Hyderabad. This is especially the case for the poorer, lower castes and classes who are forced to migrate for income but cannot afford the regular commute. A six to eight hour roundtrip bus ride, for example, costs an estimated 108 rupees.

Spending time in the village: getting context, gaining insight, and making friends 

Over the course of a week, I can confidently say that we established strong working and personal relationships with both Vidya and Swathi (and Asha), and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do so. We also were able to do some filming this week for a TCi video project about  the challenges of pilot testing the MNDA and about what fieldwork is like for a Cornell student. We captured footage of our household interviews, focus group discussions, agricultural landscapes, market transactions, and a woman named Buchemma who taught us how to make traditional raghi roti.

Our last night before returning to ICRISAT, we all met with some of the women and children in the village, exchanged words, sang songs, and danced, coalescing into a great time and a great memory. A special thank you to our ICRISAT investigator colleagues who are currently stationed in Dokur: Vidya and Swathi!

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Pre-testing the MNDA: Our first few weeks in India

June 30, 2014 by · No Comments · data collection training, Dietary Diversity, ICRISAT, India Rural Poor, MNDA, Research Agenda, Rural Diets, TCi News

Katy Merkel, a TCi intern and Cornell University grad student, reflects on her first two weeks in the field where she and four other interns, in addition to TCi staffers, are hard at work pilot testing the dietary diversity module of the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture (MNDA). Read more about TCi’s work in creating a minimum set of nutrition metrics for use in agriculture surveys here… 

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TCi interns Amrita Rao (left) and Katy Merkel (right) stand together with two ICRISAT field investigators (center) in Andhra Pradesh.

Since arriving, the TCi Intern Team has taken great strides in the development of the Dietary Diversity module of the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture, or MDNA.  We are here to pilot test this module of the MNDA with between 120-140 women in rural areas of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Prior to doing this, however, we need to pre-test and finalize our survey instrument.

Upon arrival, we spent our first week and a half going over and discussing the survey instruments, becoming familiar with the underlying theory and principles and editing the instruments as a team with our partner organization, ICRISAT.  This past week, we got to put these instruments to the test in some preliminary rounds of interviews, as well as conduct a focus group meeting. The goal was to help us identify both the positive and effective aspects of the surveys, and to identify areas that needed tweaking in order to be most useful for both our purposes, and for broad applicability in other places and contexts. This universal applicability concept has been one of the most challenging to integrate into our work.

Wrestling with the goal of ‘universal applicability’

As a Masters student in International Development at Cornell, I often study projects that are highly contextual and oriented to specific regions and cultures. While this can be extremely beneficial, the goal of the MDNA is to be adaptable, flexible, and broad enough that it can be applied to many different contexts, allowing for the largest benefit in the effort to link agriculture and nutrition. We are hoping that by using this pilot, we will be able to achieve a set of instruments that are effective in collecting essential dietary diversity information not only in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, (where the pilot will be undertaken) but also across India, Sub-Saharan Africa, and other agriculturally developing regions of the world.

The ‘mini’ pilot prompts more edits

On Wednesday, we traveled to a village in Andhra Pradesh located about an hour away from the ICRISAT campus. In this ‘mini pilot’ we broke into groups with consisting of members of the TCi team and ICRISAT investigators and staff. We used our edited survey and probed women to uncover what they had eaten over the past three days.

Dietary recall is not straightforward—trying to recall out of the blue what you had for lunch two days ago is difficult. However, the women were able to provide us with much information and they seemed excited to participate in the survey. In fact, the whole village was interested in our presence; several times the doorways to the houses we were in would become crowded with onlookers intrigued as to what we were up to.

We returned back to the ICRISAT campus feeling rather sticky and tired, but satisfied with how the day had gone. We were able to discuss our individual experiences working with the survey device, communication matters with our enumerators, and dealing with other small issues that arose throughout the day and then translate them into useful revisions in the survey. These changes ranged from modifying page layouts to rephrasing questions to clarifying the purpose of specific sections. We are now feeling much more confident in using this survey device in the field when we conduct the piloting of the MNDA dietary diversity study.

Using focus groups to gain insight

The second big event of the week was a preliminary run of a focus group discussion (FGD). This was conducted in a different village, also about an hour away. We had a really great turnout, with approximately seven women and ten men (plus two adorable toddlers) at the start, with some other villagers trickling in later. We had the help of two ICRISAT staff who have been incredibly helpful to use throughout our time here. The goal of the FGD was to see if the conversation starters we had identified would guide the discussion towards the information we wished to find out; what food do people normally eat, where do they get it from, and how much variation should we expect to see from seasonality and amongst those of different caste and class.

Again, given this experience, we were able to make a few changes in the way we plan to conduct and record the FGD’s in the future when using the MNDA. The biggest obstacle we see here is the language barrier. During this preliminary run, the moderator was a native speaker of Telugu, and could easily communicate with the FGD participants. He was sensitive to cultural issues, aware of the participants’ modes of thinking, and could easily probe participants who were remaining quiet, such as the younger women who were hesitant to contribute to the conversation.

Unfortunately, we ourselves possess none of these skills. Like other survey instruments, the MNDA will always require that implementers and partner organizations have or find individuals with this skill-set. For our upcoming pilot already know that our translators, the ICRISAT field staff who live and work in the villages we will be surveying, will be utterly invaluable in helping us conduct the full pilot. We will have to work hard to establish a rapport with them, and identify the communication needs that both they and we will have to contribute to have a successful working relationship. I am really looking forward to this process.

The pilot begins!

On Monday, we will take these into the field and begin our pilot testing of the MNDA Dietary Diversity survey with between 120-140 women in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. I speak for us all when I say we are anticipating this experience with excitement and determination to collect good data, feeling a little nervous but well-prepared for the work that lies ahead.

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TCi Begins Pilot Test of ‘Essential Nutrition Metrics for Agriculture’: Dietary Diversity (Module 3)

June 17, 2014 by · No Comments · Dietary Diversity, ICRISAT, MNDA, Research Agenda, Rural Diets, TCi Field Notes, TCi News

Recurring posts and progress updates on MNDA pilot, as well as other TCi fieldwork efforts, will continue as the summer progresses… check back in with us!

TCi MDNA Pilot Sites: Villages in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh

TCi MDNA Pilot Sites: Villages in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh

In a recent post, I discussed the how the Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition initiative (TCi) is advancing work on The Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture (MNDA). The essential metrics outlined in the MNDA will offer a standardized and streamlined way to measure nutrition status within current and existing agriculture surveys. The final outcome will be a ~2 page addendum of the most essential nutrition metrics that can give a nutritional ‘snapshot’ of individuals living in rural areas of the developing world. It will be easily inserted into existing agriculture surveys and useful tracking long-term changes in nutrition and comparing across datasets and interventions.  

Next week the TCi team, along with our partner organization, ICRISAT, will pilot test 1 of the 5 modules of the MNDA in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. This includes the individual, household and market-level dietary diversity scoring segment (module 3). Throughout the summer in India, TCi staff and student interns we’ll refine the survey instruments, pilot test the use of focus groups and surveys, and begin to compare findings with the intensive nutrition survey undertaken recently by ICRISAT for the same villages and households.

Capturing Individual and Household Dietary Diversity in the MNDA

For the purposes of the MNDA, our mission is to select the most essential nutrition metrics useful for linking agricultural changes and interventions to nutritional outcomes. We measure dietary diversity because rural households, who disproportionately make up the majority of stunted, wasted, and undernourished people, find their food and income from farming. Income on the farm contributes to household food budgets, and local food supplies are affected by local production patterns.  Lack of dietary diversity is a particularly severe problem among poor populations in the development world because diets are dominated by starchy staples and grains, with little or no animal products and few fresh fruits and vegetables (Gómez & Ricketts, 2013; Gómez et al., 2013; Ruel, 2003; Tontisirin, Nantel, & Bhattacharjee, 2002). Accurately assessing a household and individuals access to a diverse diet is a key measurement area useful for identifying how food insecurity can contribute to malnutrition. Our dietary diversity module captures 3 elements:

  • 2 Dietary Diversity Scores (including a household-level score identifying household access, and an individual score for micronutrient access for women)
  • Focus groups for understanding local diets and correctly classifying local foods

Using Household and Individual Dietary Diversity Scores (FVCs)

The MNDA approach is to ask the primary household cook (often the daughter, daughter-in-law, or female head of house) who is between 15-45 years. The MNDA asks what she ate and cooked over the past 3 days as a proxy for overall household nutrition. This means the MNDA captures a rough idea of food consumption at the household level and for a specific individual woman within her childbearing years. All foods recalled are collapsed into major food groups, as outlined in the FAO/FANTA Dietary Diversity Guide. A household-level dietary diversity score (HDDS) is comprised of individual foods that have been collapsed into major and minor food groups. To determine an individual score for women, the MNDA identifies a second score by collapsing individual foods into a different list of micronutrient-rich foods that are high in iron and minerals (women’s dietary diversity score or WDDS).  Thus the MNDA offers 2 types of dietary diversity indicators; a HDDS which identifies access to a broad range of food groups, and a WDDS based food groups that are micronutrient and protein-rich. These kinds of food-group scores have remained  popular because of their simplicity and field- feasibility (Ruel, 2003).

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Draft of MNDA Dietary Recall segment: Property of TCi

Reference (recall) range from 1-15 days, but many collect dietary information over 1-3 days periods. While 24 hour recall periods are thought to have greater levels of accuracy because they do not require the respondent to recall consumption information beyond one day, research has shown that the number of different foods consumed increases with time but plateaus at 15 days (Drewnowski, Ahlstrom-Henderson, Driscoll, & Rolls, 1997). A recent review of dietary diversity measurement issues by Ruel (2003) suggests that a 3 day recall period can reasonably estimate much of the variation of an individuals diet.

The MNDA is piloted with a 3-day recall period plus the ‘market day’ (Leftmost image). We elected to pilot test the inclusion of the local outdoor market day for several reasons.  First, the household/individual is likely to purchase and prepare perishable foods (like meats) on that day, suggesting that lack of inclusion might underestimate purchase or consumption of critical food groups. Second, an individual may weekly consume diverse snacks, treats, or other “special foods” on this day that might otherwise go uncounted. Third, and perhaps most importantly, inclusion of the market day can provide an important weekly ‘anchor’ for respondent recall accuracy. Finding appropriate “anchors” and points of reference for respondents has been found to be critical for dietary recall (Subar et al., 1995).

Using Focus Groups to Ground Assumptions and Ensure Proper Food Classification

Since the HDDS and WDDS are scores based on food groups, identifying classifying specific foods into the correct groups is essential. This means understanding local diets contextualizing responses. We are additionally piloting the use of  focus groups prior to individual surveying in order to identify and validate necessary minor and major food groups. We undertake this effort to collect a picture of local diets, commonly consumed foods, discuss specific foods or the components of major dishes that are frequently prepared. Focus group discussions on food groups will begin with the 16 food groups outlined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (Kennedy, Ballard, & Dop, 2011).

…more updates soon on our pilot progress!

 Citations

Drewnowski, A., Ahlstrom-Henderson, S., Driscoll, A., & Rolls, B. (1997). The Dietary Variety Score. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 97(3), 266–271. doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(97)00070-9

Gómez, M. I., Barrett, C. B., Raney, T., Pinstrup-Andersen, P., Meerman, J., Croppenstedt, A., … Thompson, B. (2013). Post-green revolution food systems and the triple burden of malnutrition. Food Policy, 42, 129–138. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919213000754

Kennedy, G., Ballard, T., & Dop, M. (2011). Guidelines for measuring household and individual dietary diversity (pp. 1–60).

Ruel, M. T. (2003). Operationalizing Dietary Diversity: A Review of Measurement Issues. Journal of Nutrition, 133(11), 3911S–3926S.

Subar, A., Thompson, FrancesSmith, A., Jobe, J., Ziegler, R., Potischman, N., Schatzkin, A., … Harlan, L. (1995). Improving Food Frequency Questionnaires. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 95(7), 781–788. doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(95)00217-0

Tontisirin, K., Nantel, G., & Bhattacharjee, L. (2002). Food-based strategies to meet the challenges of micronutrient malnutrition in the developing world. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 61(2), 243–50. doi:10.1079/PNS2002155

 

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In a Warmer World: Thoughts from ICRISAT’s Director General

May 23, 2014 by · No Comments · Biofortification, Dietary Diversity, ICRISAT, India Rural Poor, Partner-Research, Pearl Millet, Research Agenda, Rural Diets

A Pearl Millet farmer in India Photo: A Paul-Bossuet, ICRISAT

A Pearl Millet farmer in India Photo: A Paul-Bossuet, ICRISAT

This is a reposting (see the original posting here) of a May 1st article by ICRISAT‘s Director General discussing the implications of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014 Impact Report. The Director General stresses the importance of nutritious and resilient grains like sorghum and millet and discusses how farmers need support to cultivate these critical crops.

Check out a recent TCi blog describing the ongoing partnership between TCi, ICRISAT, and private-ssector companies in India working on improving millet and pulse value chains for linking smallholder farmers and improving the diets of rural Indian households. 

Climate scientists from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have recently compiled thousands of climate change related studies from around the world into their fifth Assessment Report. This confirms that climate change is happening even faster, and with more damaging effects, than previously anticipated.

They also made it clear that climate change will be harmful to everybody by affecting the world’s food supply. Most climate scenarios depict a world warmer by two degrees or more by 2100, predicting sharp crop yield declines for major grains like wheat and maize.

Support farmers to grow more climate resilient “heritage” grains

A rethink of what we grow in arid regions, supporting traditional climate smart crops like millet, which needs 3.5 times less water than rice to grow, would make sense. This would lead to a more water efficient agriculture, but changing our food systems is not easy.

Unfortunately, with the globalization of our food supply, traditional grains have been receding in favor of wheat, rice and maize. In the last 50 years, millets and sorghum consumption have declined by 45% and 52%. This decline has been reflected in the cultivation of these crops in the drylands. A recent study from CCAFS suggests that our reliance on fewer crops in the last decades increases the vulnerability of our food systems to droughts, pests, diseases and climate change.

We need to anticipate a drier and warmer climate and join efforts to promote the traditional climate hardy grains such as pearl millet, other small millets and sorghum which are often the only crops adapted to hot, dry climates and erratic rains.

This is particularly important as these resilient grains are also essential for the food and nutrition security of millions of farming families in arid lands. Millets for instance are nutritious, gluten free, rich in protein and iron, virtues that need to discovered and promoted across the globe.

This will be helped by the growing importance of “food for health” in recent years. Efforts by Professor MS Swaminathan to incorporate millet as a nutri-cereal in the Public Distribution System in India and the first commercialization of iron-rich biofortified pearl millet seeds are encouraging.

Climate smart innovations to help farmers adapt to warmer and drier environments

A recently installed LeasyScan phenotyping platform, the first of its kind in CGIAR, will catalyze our plant breeding for drought adaptation as we are now able to measure leaf area quicker to automatically capture plant drought adaptation traits such as leaf development dynamics and leaf conductance. This will also help improve our crop modelling under various drought conditions, and speed up the development of improved drought-tolerant cultivars. The impact can be tremendous for example for Indian farmers growing post-rainy (rabi) sorghum on 5.7 million hectares.

Global warming will also have implications on the way farmers manage their crops. Our Center of Excellence on Climate Change Research for Plant Protection looks at the impact on insect/pest risks on chickpea and pigeonpea.

Promoting practices to diversify crops, for instance legume-cereal intercropping, is more likely to provide a sufficient and balanced diet for rural households in a variable climate. In Malawi, it was found that farmers practicing pigeonpea-maize intercropping were more food secure than those practicing maize monoculture.

Generating climate smart innovations such as the ones mentioned above are becoming crucial to ensure a better food security in the decades to come. It is also important to work with farmers to experiment with adaptation strategies such as crop diversity and conservation farming practices in twinned climate analogue locations.

We need a better understanding of the impact of climate change on crop production and food systems The Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project AGMIP will help inform decision-makers of highly predictive scenarios for better adaptation policies at regional and local scale.

Rural poor in the semi-arid tropics will be worst hit by climate change

Global warming will most probably increase inequalities as the most vulnerable people have fewer resources to adapt. Droughts, heat waves and flash floods are more frequent and severely reduce grain harvests, putting even more pressure on rural households living in poverty, recurrent food insecurity and malnutrition. This is especially true in rural areas in developing countries where rainfed agriculture, highly vulnerable to extreme rain and temperature conditions, is the main livelihood option for many.

Climate change could also impact differently across gender. Custom in Senegal means that women’s fields are planted a month later than men’s, thereby exposing them to more risk when rains terminate earlier as observed in recent years.

Warming is expected to be greater in tropical regions where ICRISAT works and building climate resilience for the rural poor in the drylands is and will remain at the core of ICRISAT’s research strategy for the years to come.

I am convinced that these nutritious and hardy crops should and will play a greater role in ensuring our future food systems are more resilient. Let’s hope that millets, sorghum, and grain legumes will get more attention from research partners, governments and donors during the upcoming resilience conferences in Montpellier and Addis Ababa this month, helping to boost coping mechanisms for farmers facing the brewing storm.

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2014 TCi Photo Contest Celebrates Inspirational Women and Girls in India

May 14, 2014 by · No Comments · India Rural Poor, Rural labor, Self Help Groups, TCi News, Women's Empowerment

During early 2014, TCi held a photo contest around the theme, “India’s Inspirational Women and Girls.” Cornell staff and students submitted the photos and stories of Indian women they had met living and doing work or research in India. Below are select photos and stories from our finalists. 

This woman, Ratani Bai, was the most hospitable person I met in India. She was one of the participants I selected to interview for my survey. I went to her house, and we hit it off immediately. At the time, she was cleaning up cow and goat manure with her bare hands to put on the fields. She didn’t speak English, and my Hindi was rocky, but we somehow communicated. She was joking how I needed to get down on her level, so she took manure and wiped it all over my face and arms while we both laughed hysterically. After that, her house became my home base when I was passing through her village. She was always stuffing me full of chapatis, offering her delicious chai, and trying to convince me to stay the night. My translator and I would simply refer to her as “my favorite lady”. This photo was taken when I followed her goats in the mountains during their daily hike. She was acting like her normal, fun-loving self as she held down tree branches for her goats to reach the uppermost leaves; probably telling some joke at my expense. Ratani Bai inspired me with her hospitality, and I think this photo shows the kindness in her eyes. It is a beautiful thing to feel so comfortable and welcome in a stranger’s home. I hope to meet Ratani Bai again one day. -Maureen Valentine

This woman, Ratani Bai, was the most hospitable person I met in India. She was one of the participants I selected to interview for my survey. I went to her house, and we hit it off immediately. At the time, she was cleaning up cow and goat manure with her bare hands to put on the fields. She didn’t speak English, and my Hindi was rocky, but we somehow communicated. She was joking how I needed to get down on her level, so she took manure and wiped it all over my face and arms while we both laughed hysterically. After that, her house became my home base when I was passing through her village. She was always stuffing me full of chapatis, offering her delicious chai, and trying to convince me to stay the night. My translator and I would simply refer to her as “my favorite lady”.
This photo was taken when I followed her goats in the mountains during their daily hike. She was acting like her normal, fun-loving self as she held down tree branches for her goats to reach the uppermost leaves; probably telling some joke at my expense. Ratani Bai inspired me with her hospitality, and I think this photo shows the kindness in her eyes. It is a beautiful thing to feel so comfortable and welcome in a stranger’s home. I hope to meet Ratani Bai again one day. -Maureen Valentine, PhD candidate, Animal Science

 

It was my first trip to India. The women in this photo greeted me on my first day in the Indian countryside with a necklace of marigolds. When asking further about how the clean water pump/filter would change their daily lives, these women said that they would save at least 2 hours and that they would be able to properly ready their kids for school, start cooking, and get to the fields earlier.  In this photo, the older woman smiling at the young baby spoke up and said something to effect of, “I’m getting older and I’d like to have some time for leisure. I hope the access to the water can give me that.” I appreciated this woman who was honest enough with us to say that what she really needed was to be able to have some down time. It made me think hard about how I’ve yet to ever see or work on a development project that explicitly addresses that need.  As practitioners and researchers, how can we ensure that development work meets that need?  -Katie Ricketts

This photo was taken on my first trip India. These women (pictured) greeted me on my first day in the Indian countryside with a necklace of marigolds. When asking further about how the clean water pump/filter would change their daily lives, these women said that they would save at least 2 hours and that they would be able to properly ready their kids for school, start cooking, and get to the fields earlier.
In this photo, the older woman smiling at the young baby spoke up and said something to effect of, “I’m getting older and I’d like to have some time for leisure. I hope the access to water can give me that.” Everyone laughed and I got the impression that the comment was about a luxury most couldn’t imagine. I appreciated this woman’s honesty. It made me think hard about how I’ve yet to ever see or work on a development project that explicitly addresses the need for women to have their own ‘free time.’ As practitioners and researchers, how can we ensure that development work meets that need?
-Katie Ricketts, TCi Project/Research Manager

I was serving lunch to children in school and I was told that it is what they have for all day. Even the food is not much and not as abundant compared to what we normally have in USA, these children they truly appreciate it. They are so behaved to line up for the food and gave me a truly smile when they get the food. The girl in the photo is one of them. The smile she gave me let me realize how grateful I should be and how I should treasure what I have. -Nancy Chen

I was serving lunch to children in school and I was told that it is what they have for all day. Even the food is not much and not as abundant compared to what we normally have in USA, these children they truly appreciate it. They are so behaved to line up for the food and gave me a truly smile when they get the food. The girl in the photo is one of them. The smile she gave me let me realize how grateful I should be and how I should treasure what I have. -Nancy Chen, Dept. Food Science

The woman in the picture is a worker for the Pochampally Handloom Park in Hyderabad, India. She is a member of a nearby village and commutes to the park everyday to make her living. Despite only making about 10,000 rupees a year, she works diligently everyday to provide for herself and her family. Despite her low pay, she greeted us with a smile and allowed us to take pictures of her while she worked. This women helps to tie the dyed pieces of thread together, which are eventually stretched out to larger frames. The handwork she utilizes is intricate and impressive, I was amazed by her skills and the speed at which she completed her craft. Pochampally Handloop Park specializes in making Ikat fabric. Ikat is a traditional Indian textile in which the wrap, the weft, or both are tied and died in a specific patter that lines up during the weaving process to create a specific design. Ths park provides a training program for both men and women, providing job opportunities for people in the neighboring villages who are jobless. The women are trained in different parts of the Ikat process and whichever technique they like the best is what they choose as their final job.  -Dale Kinney

The woman in the picture is a worker for the Pochampally Handloom Park in Hyderabad, India. She is a member of a nearby village and commutes to the park everyday to make her living. Despite only making about 10,000 rupees a year, she works diligently everyday to provide for herself and her family. Despite her low pay, she greeted us with a smile and allowed us to take pictures of her while she worked. This women helps to tie the dyed pieces of thread together, which are eventually stretched out to larger frames. The handwork she utilizes is intricate and impressive, I was amazed by her skills and the speed at which she completed her craft.
Pochampally Handloop Park specializes in making Ikat fabric. Ikat is a traditional Indian textile in which the wrap, the weft, or both are tied and died in a specific patter that lines up during the weaving process to create a specific design. Ths park provides a training program for both men and women, providing job opportunities for people in the neighboring villages who are jobless. The women are trained in different parts of the Ikat process and whichever technique they like the best is what they choose as their final job. -Dale Kinney, Dept. of Fiber Science & Apparel Design

Gender discrimination is one of Indian society's gravest ills. Tamil Nadu being no exception: a patriarchal society where women are still seen as a burden to their families. This perception of the role of women explains many guises of gender issues such as educational gaps, sex-selective abortion and income inequality.   Sharanya Sundaraj embodies the fact that education empowers women to challenge and overcome societal norms and biases. From a very poor background, Sharanya overcame many obstacles to complete her studies. She subsequently focused on professional development instead of taking on society driven roles for women. This photograph portrays her happiness on her 25th birthday, with all her colleagues from the Puthiya Thalaimurai TV channel where she is a leading news correspondent. -Samir Kiuhan
Gender discrimination is one of Indian society’s gravest ills. Tamil Nadu being no exception: a patriarchal society where women are still seen as a burden to their families. This perception of the role of women explains many guises of gender issues such as educational gaps, sex-selective abortion and income inequality.
Sharanya Sundaraj embodies the fact that education empowers women to challenge and overcome societal norms and biases. From a very poor background, Sharanya overcame many obstacles to complete her studies. She subsequently focused on professional development instead of taking on society driven roles for women. This photograph portrays her happiness on her 25th birthday, with all her colleagues from the Puthiya Thalaimurai TV channel where she is a leading news correspondent.       -Samir Kiuhan, Cornell Alumni 

 

 

Born and brought up in a relatively non-agrarian state in India, with small farms, big towns and homestead backyard gardens, seeing families dependent on agriculture was an experience for me. I had assumed that even in more marginal places that some kind of farm machinery was always used and that farm work was dreary and monotonous. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Among the many aspects of agriculture in Vidarbha that are etched into my brain, the single most impactful fact was the sheer amount of work undertaken by rural women. The scale of operations is stupefying. I never had to do it, but if I were to hand-weed or apply manure to my whole 1.5 acres, I would assume that the task was unrealistic. In my fieldwork experience, an hour in the scorching heat would leave me on my knees, looking up and begging for a snowstorm, or a least cold water and a lumbar-brace! But the women in this picture—both much older than me—are doing it. Throughout the season, every year millions upon millions of acres of farmland across India are undertaken by women. An amount of work beyond the stretch of imagination in a world of mechanized agriculture! This inspired me and will inspire any who look at it. It is a picture that shows how much you can achieve even without limitless means, if you took it one relentless step at a time.  -Vinay Bhaskar

Born and brought up in a relatively non-agrarian state in India, with small farms, big towns and homestead backyard gardens, seeing families dependent on agriculture was an experience for me. I had assumed that even in more marginal places that some kind of farm machinery was always used and that farm work was dreary and monotonous. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Among the many aspects of agriculture in Vidarbha that are etched into my brain, the single most impactful fact was the sheer amount of work undertaken by rural women. The scale of operations is stupefying. I never had to do it, but if I were to hand-weed or apply manure to my whole 1.5 acres, I would assume that the task was unrealistic. In my fieldwork experience, an hour in the scorching heat would leave me on my knees, looking up and begging for a snowstorm, or a least cold water and a lumbar-brace!
But the women in this picture—both much older than me—are doing it. Throughout the season, every year millions upon millions of acres of farmland across India are undertaken by women. An amount of work beyond the stretch of imagination in a world of mechanized agriculture! This inspired me and will inspire any who look at it. It is a picture that shows how much you can achieve even without limitless means, if you took it one relentless step at a time. -Vinay Bhaskar, Ph.D candidate, Horticulture

 

The woman in this photograph is a resident of the local village Pochampally and she goes to work here at the Pochampally Hand Loom Park seven days a week.  She works so hard to create her own independence.  This hand loom park is run by a Co-op system, where men and women can work and become financially independent for themselves and support their children, family members and even friends.  It is a place that cherishes the traditional, yet intricate ways of creating beautiful textiles for clothes, accessories, homegoods and furnishings.  This woman is proud to have her job and able to support herself and family.  Her job may be simple, but it is this job that provides her with freedom and flexibility to shape her life the way she wants it.  It was incredible to watch her spin at top-speed to tie in the new warp yarns into the existing yarns.  These new yarns will then contribute to be woven into an ikat styled fabric that is special to the south of India.  She is contributing to the movement of preserving India’s complex and exquisite textile techniques that have been around for thousands of years; despite the increasing opportunities in industrialized textile looms and apparel mass production facilities. -Caroline Donelan

The woman in this photograph is a resident of the local village Pochampally and she goes to work here at the Pochampally Hand Loom Park seven days a week. She works so hard to create her own independence. This hand loom park is run by a Co-op system, where men and women can work and become financially independent for themselves and support their children, family members and even friends. It is a place that cherishes the traditional, yet intricate ways of creating beautiful textiles for clothes, accessories, homegoods and furnishings. This woman is proud to have her job and able to support herself and family. Her job may be simple, but it is this job that provides her with freedom and flexibility to shape her life the way she wants it. It was incredible to watch her spin at top-speed to tie in the new warp yarns into the existing yarns. These new yarns will then contribute to be woven into an ikat styled fabric that is special to the south of India. She is contributing to the movement of preserving India’s complex and exquisite textile techniques that have been around for thousands of years; despite the increasing opportunities in industrialized textile looms and apparel mass production facilities. -Caroline Donelan, Dept. Fiber Science and Apparel Design 

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Prabhu Pingali: Women’s groups as conduits towards resilient communities

May 7, 2014 by · No Comments · India Rural Poor, Self Help Groups, Women's Empowerment

Ricketts_Jharkand

Photo credit: Katie Ricketts (TCi)

This post is a re-post from FarmingFirst.org, who invited Prabhu Pingali,  Director of the Tata-Cornell Agriculture & Nutrition Initiative (TCi), to contribute to a series of blog articles on resilience published in partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ahead of the conference “Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security” 15-17 May 2014. The original post can be found here

Women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are becoming ubiquitous across rural India.  There are currently around 3 million registered women’s SHGs in the country. These groups are becoming integral to the lasting resilience of its rural food systems and communities, and can provide some useful lessons for the rest of the developing world.

Initially set up for facilitating microfinance, SHGs are now playing an important role as conduits of overall empowerment of rural women in India, giving women the strength to create change that they could not have been able to achieve individually, in terms of access to finance, environmental stewardship, and even political empowerment.

WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT IN ACTION

This year I have visited many groups that demonstrated the impact women’s SHGs are having on building a resilient community. In Gufu for example, a village located a few hours outside of Ranchi, Jharkand, we visited an SHG that was helping women break their dependence on local moneylenders and stop selling valuable assets (often land) when they needed access to credit. It began life as a savings and loans group and is now operating a cooperative store selling seed and fertilizer and has helped its members purchase irrigation pumps for their land.

The leader of an SHG in Kunti, a neighboring area to Gufu, told us proudly, “We now have a bank account and I go to the bank to manage the account. I never went into a bank before I started with this group.  I always thought banks were for people with money. We have money now.” This new sense of confidence has women increasing their participation in village-level meetings and talking about their aspirations to run for local government offices.

In Jharkand we visited PRADAN, an NGO that has a long track record of working with women’s groups. PRADAN was helping one rural community improve the supply of water to its drinking water wells by changing the way it uses land on the upper watershed. The women in the community participated in mapping the watershed, in making decisions on cropping pattern changes, and in implementing the change.  Today perennials have replaced annual crops in the upper watershed, soil erosion has reduced significantly and well water is available throughout the year, even during the peak summer months.

NOT ALL SELF HELP GROUPS ARE SUCCESSFUL

The evolution of SHGs from savings and loans groups to become an access point for political decisionmaking and natural resource management is truly astounding – but not all groups are able to step up to taking on the broader development and local governance challenges.  So what makes an SHG flounder or flourish?

Many of the groups we visited lacked leadership or managerial skills, or exhibited poor group cohesion.  In many cases, the leaders were overburdened by numerous and competing demands from the various development projects that are trying to use the SHGs for accomplishing their objectives. All too often, external organizations, eager to see change, have elected to channel projects through SHGs. They are perhaps unaware of how the splintering of limited time and resources of SHG women might undermine the capacity for SHGs to manage their own affairs, a fundamental dimension for change.

FOCUS ON GROUP BUY-IN AND OWNERSHIP

Institutions, donors, and organizations looking to leverage the power and potential of SHGs should be optimistic, but keep in mind the ultimate goal of enhancing women’s empowerment and opportunity. Individual ”buy-in” and group ownership of decisions are vital to ensuring that SHGs are a platform to facilitate transformative change that will build a more resilient community.

As development agencies, researchers, or practitioners, we need to proceed with caution so as not to undermine the potential of SHGs. Equipping SHGs with the financial and managerial resources they need to meet goals determined by the group and forgoing projects that could highlight the differences amongst women (educated versus non-educated, young versus old) will remain critical principles of practice.

Certainly, it will require a more nuanced view of SHGs, one that looks at them as organizations on a pathway to determining their own future rather than simply vehicles for project implementation that can provide heartwarming stories about women.

2020_Building_Resilience_Conference_BP_0This blog article is part of an ongoing series on resilience being published ahead of an upcoming IFPRI conference to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2014. Building resilience means helping people, communities, countries, and global institutions prevent, anticipate, prepare for, cope with, and recover from shocks, not only helping them to “bounce back” but also to become better off. This conference aims to help set priorities for building resilience, to evaluate emerging threats to resilience, and to draw lessons from humanitarian and development responses to previous shocks.

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Establishing the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture: TCi works to fill the agriculture-nutrition data void

April 8, 2014 by · No Comments · Community Participation, data collection training, Dietary Diversity, India Rural Poor, Rural Diets, TCi News

This post is a review of the current TCi work on the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture, an exciting new initiative undertaken by TCi and partner organizations to fill the ‘data-gap’ and establish a greater empirical understanding of the links between agriculture and nutrition… 

Rural Indian women talking with TCi staff (Photo credit: TCi 2014)

Rural Indian women talking with TCi staff (Photo credit: TCi 2014)

An understanding the  links between agriculture and nutrition will require new thinking around how agriculture and nutrition surveys can collect the critical data needed for meaningful comparison and analysis of trends. Currently, a major data collection gap is reducing efforts to link and track changes in agriculture to changes in nutrition status.

For decades agricultural surveys have focused on tracking household income and employment patterns, food supply and food prices, and farm management and agronomy practices. Often, this has given economists and others a good sense of why certain types of foods are available or affordable to rural communities. However, understanding how nutrition status has changed in response to agricultural interventions, has largely remained a mystery. The presence of a minimum set of essential, standardized nutrition indicators is needed to augment these agricultural surveys and to provide insight into the contribution of agriculture to human nutrition.

TCi’s role in establishing a Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture

The Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture (MNDA) is a Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition initiative (TCi) project that is attempting to gather consensus on the most essential nutrition metrics for inclusion into current and future longitudinal agriculture surveys. The final outcome will be a 1-2 page addendum of the most essential nutrition metrics that can give a nutritional ‘snapshot’ of individuals living in rural areas of the developing world. It will be easily inserted into existing agriculture surveys and useful tracking long-term changes in nutrition and comparing across datasets and interventions.

*Given that it only will capture the most essential nutritional status indicators, the MNDA will not replace the need for current or existing deeper nutritional survey work. At the moment, the MNDA is being created specifically for use in India.*

December 2013 at Cornell University: Convening of Experts for Reviewing Metrics and Critical Indicator Areas

At the December meeting, experts from nutrition, economics, sociology, and natural resource management (among other fields) discussed the following  categories (i.e., modules) for inclusion in the MNDA:

  • Module 1: Anthropometry/clinical nutrition indicators
  • Module 2: Biochemical markers
  • Module 3: Household-level and market-level dietary diversity and quality scoring (household food access)
  • Module 4: Metrics around intra-household allocation (individual food access)
  • Module 5: Early childhood care in the first 1,000 days of life
TCi working group discussing the MNDA with rural women in Feb. 2014 (Photo credit: TCi 2014)

TCi working group discussing the MNDA with rural women in Feb. 2014 (Photo credit: TCi 2014)

Modules 1-3 were identified as high-priority areas for future development. Modules 4-5 were identified as indicator categories in need of further research (e.g, current ‘black boxes’) prior to inclusion in the MNDA. Eventually, specific metrics are from these modules are expected to be included. Contact TCi for the December 2013 Report on the MNDA Expert Meeting.

The February 2013 MNDA Working Group Meeting with ICRISAT

The Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative (TCi) convened a practitioner working group for the MNDA on February 24-26th in Hyderabad, India along with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). TCi is partnering with ICRISAT to help develop the MNDA in India and eventually pilot segments of the MNDA throughout rural villages across the country. The three-day workshop in February built off of the December 2013 expert meeting.

Since 1975, ICRISAT has been collecting economic, demographic, crop production, employment, and other economic and agronomic data points from households in rural areas around Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra (known as the Village Level Studies or VLS work). Given that the VLS data has recently been tracking nutrition status, the ICRISAT VLS villages are an ideal place to pilot and develop certain segments of MNDA for use across India.

Upcoming work: developing a pilot for the MNDA

This summer, the TCi team (including the new TCi intern cohort) and ICRISAT staff will engage in a ‘mini-pilot’ to test specific modules of the MNDA during the summer of 2014 in ICRISAT’s VLS villages.  This ‘mini pilot’ will test various methods and methodologies for collecting information in the following MNDA modules:

  • “Essential” health history questions (part of Module 1)
  • Dietary diversity information/scores (part of Module 3)
  • Market-level data on food availability and affordability (part of Module 3)

Comparison between MNDA vs. VLS (ICRISAT) method will identify differences/similarities in nutrition information captured.  What do they each tell us? How different are they? We are eagerly anticipating the launch of the mini-pilot in June.

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TCi Convenes Working Group in India Focused on Smallholder Aggregation Models for Improving Nutriton

March 12, 2014 by · 1 Comment · Biofortification, Community Participation, India Rural Poor, Pearl Millet, Public Distribution System, Rural Diets, TCi News

Slide06Aggregation of micronutrient and protein-dense food to feed the undernourished in India: What’s it going to take?”

Increased production of staple crops and improved varieties offer the chance to deliver necessary calories, iron and other essential vitamins to undernourished people throughout India. A few weeks ago in Hyderabad, TCi coordinated a multi-sector meeting with plant breeders, economists, private agribusiness companies, NGO organizations, and intergovernmental organizations at ICRISAT to discuss how to expand supply and improve demand for protein-dense and biofortified foods in India. The nutriton challenges facing India are extraordinary: the country suffers one of the highest global rates of childhood stunting and malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, like anemia are estimated to affect more than half of women and adolescent girls.

The Big Question for India:

In particular, the February 26-27th meeting focused on discussing opportunities and challenges around aggregation models that could:

  1. expand the supply of biofortified pearl millet in Rajasthan, Gujarat and western Maharashtra and,
  2. increase per capita consumption of protein-dense pulses around the country through increased supply.

Participants in this spirited discussion included a select number of academics and NGO participants, in addition to wide-spread participation by an eager private sector. After an initial day of discussing international and domestic models for aggregation with smallholder farmers, workshop participants broke up into two groups. One focused on the challenges facing increasing the supply of biofortified pearl millet, and the other on the impediments to elevating per-capita consumption of pulses through domestic supply improvments.P.Pingali at ICRISAT

Biofortified pearl millet and iron-rich food: expanding production and enabling access

Biofortification technologies—which utilize traditional plant breeding methods and not genetic modification—can help provide access to micronutrients for communities that depend on cereals. Pearl millet is a staple consumed in much of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and western Maharashtra. Biofortification of the crop requires increases in seed production and wide-spread adoption of the hybrid varieties in order to decrease relative prices and increase local demand. Yet millets are grown on marginal lands, with farmers who face lack of access to inputs, credit, and other technologies; including  biofortified varieties. Moreover, for demand to increase and for justification for a slightly elevated price, consumers need assurance that they are truly buying an improved product. Among other things, this new market opportunity for smallholder farmers depends on the development of certified supply chains and marketing efforts that can grant farmers price premiums for cultivation and consumers confidence in product value.

On the production front, farmer interest in cultivation of biofortified pearl millet will depend on access to necessary services that can help farmers improve productivity (access to inputs and extension) and certification efforts that can differentiate the product and enable price premiums.  On the marketing front, coordinated efforts with public health officials, integration with school feeding programs (e.g., the mid-day meal program), the public distribution program (PDS) and other institutional buyers (i.e., ICDS), was thought to be capable of creating the marketing push for highlighting the benefits of biofortified pearl millet for both urban and rural consumers.

Key take-aways include:

  • Biofortification programmes should made integral in all national breeding programmes.
  • Policy reform to ensure that varieties have minimum threshold levels of Fe (iron) and Zn (zinc).
  • Establishing economically viable testing procedures for assessing the Fe and Zn content of product along the value chain.
  • Differentiated supply chains for selling of the varieties (hybrids) to farmers through branding, labeling, and certification efforts.
  • Organizing consumer awareness and education campaigns and promotion as ‘health foods.’
  • Research and development targeting increased productivity of biofortified pearl millet varieties at farmer level.

Increasing protein intake through pulse consumption throughout India: focusing on raising per capita consumption

Meanwhile, increases in the consumption of traditionally available pulses, including chickpea and pigeon pea (key ingredients in various dahls and other Indian foods) can play a key role in sustaining access to protein-dense food that improve nutrition. Recently, declines in per capita consumption of these protein-dense foods have exacerbated the problem of undernutrition; for the poor in India, many are consuming less than 50% of necessary average protein required. Increased imports from Canada are further reducing the incentive to produce local varieties.

Strengthening demand for pulse production can mean income opportunities for rural families farming marginalized, rain-fed land where little else can grow. Currently, however, the working group noted how incentives at the policy and individual level are not aligned to expand production. Contextual factors suggest multiple reasons why farmers have moved out of pulse production. Imports of pulses have caused relative price decreases, which, along with poor yield prospects for Indian pulses (due to lack of research and investment) further reduce production incentives. Additionally, as irrigation development occurs, farmers move out of pulse production in favor of higher-value alternative cash crops. If pulses remain a ‘poor persons crop’ and not a cash crop, the links between a) improved nutrition though increased income and, b) improved nutrition though increases in available supply (placing downward pressure on prices) could be lost.

Key take-aways from the group:

  • New farm management strategies to incentivize cultivation of pulses at the farm-level including intercropping, rice fallows, and residual moisture.
  • Procurement by Indian government at a market support price (MSP) in order to kick-start production and offer price incentives.
  • Opportunities to link smallholder pulse production to public-distribution system (PDS) in order increase availability in critical areas through a clear market route.
  • Increased investment in research including better varieties (e.g., short duration, disease resistance, etc.).
  • Open up alternative market routes (including as an ingredient in snack or ‘ready-to-go’ foods).
  • Awareness raising and policy focus on vulnerable segments.

Have a look at the TCi power point presentation given during the workshop titled: International Lessons: Models for Linking Smallholder Farmers to Markets :

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Intensive training for accurate data collection: No, we are not from “Tata-Cornell hospital!”

March 10, 2014 by · No Comments · Dietary Diversity, India Rural Poor, Partner-Research, Rural Diets, TCi scholars, Women's Empowerment

TCi FIELD NOTES are a series of blog posts dedicated for current TCi Scholars, Fellows, and TCi staff to share experiences, insight, and stories stemming from TCi-funded fieldwork throughout India. Soumya Gupta is current TCi Scholar pursuing a Ph.D in Applied Economics at Cornell. In this post, Soumya, who is carrying out a household survey to collect data for her dissertation, gives a project update from the Chandrapur district (Vidarbha) in India. Check out her first and second posts.

This month we organized a 10-day training session for our team of 20 enumerators and 2 supervisors. It was held at MGIMS’ Rural Health Training Center (RHTC) at Bhidi village which is 35 kms from Sewagram (Wardha). The main focus of the training was to acquaint the team with the survey questionnaire and activities. We began with in-class discussions and mock interviews based on the paper questionnaire. Once the team seemed to have understood the questions, response options and skip codes we moved on to training them in the use and handling of the Samsung tablets that were procured for the survey. After that practice interviews were held in the nearby Bhidi village.

The team was also trained in taking anthropometric measurements for men, women and children. Portable stadiometers, infantometers and digital weighing scales were sourced from TISS and Dr. Subodh Gupta from MGIMS conducted a day long training with the team regarding the handling of equipment, placement of respondents and recording of readings. In a parallel session our phlebotomist was given a week’s training at MGIMS and the Metropolis laboratory in Chandrapur/Nagpur.

It is one thing to discuss project details with your committee members/ project coordinator or other people who have been part of the process right from the beginning. It is a whole different ball game to talk about it to a group of people who have no idea about it and who are probably not that invested in it either. I was constantly wondering if I’m making any sense to my team and if they have really understood things the way I expect them to.

The main focus was on understanding and interpreting the questions properly. The empowerment module developed by IFPRI took a longer than the other sections. Within that the section on relative autonomy in productive decisions was, for me, the toughest to explain. It was fairly subjective and therefore we had to go through several rounds of relevant examples and discussions before everyone was on the same page. For instance how would you distinguish between ‘get into trouble’ vs. ‘disappoint someone’ in relation to ‘decision about purchase of agricultural inputs’? The good thing was that because our team didn’t understand it all in one go we ourselves ended up understanding just how nuanced some of the questions and response options are. Everyone agreed that this is not like the other surveys they have been a part of – the questions are more involved and don’t have the standard yes/no or numerical response (10 acres/ 15 quintals/ Rs. 20,000 and so on).

Another component of our training was on field research ethics. For this we used a field guide developed by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. A Hindi translation was provided to every participant. A part of that was an emphasis on the meaning of voluntary consent and why it is important. We distributed copies of our consent form to our team and every day there would be reading sessions. I realized that while the form itself seemed very obvious and clear to me, the team who were learning about the project only then perceived it very differently. Even the names of the collaborating institutes (TCi, MGIMS, TISS) were hard to say all in one go. Very often the three would be mixed up to form ‘Tata-Cornell hospital’!

We were working with our software developer during the training period as well. He sent us the software without testing it (although he claims till date that his team tested it well and good). So Kasim and the supervisors extensively tested the software prior to the training. Even then our team identified several bugs during the training. We would send him texts/emails in real time and he would respond. I have to admit though that after a point the real time back-n-forth became ridiculous and then downright frustrating. Imagine working with a certain version of the software all day, identifying bugs in it till evening, the guy sending us the revised version before dinner, testing it post dinner, transferring it onto all the tabs by midnight, testing it with the team the next day and then….repeat the whole process. It was so so infuriating how, even after repeated reminders and inputs, he refused to find solutions to the issues at hand. From being understanding and encouraging I feel I eventually became very demanding and very bossy with the developer! Little did I realize that that was just the beginning and that I would have many more moments where the phrase ‘dear God please give me the strength to deal with such-n-such person’ would come to mind!

One evening we divided the team into groups of 5 each and asked them to depict their experience during the training. They talked about how they came from different parts of Vidarbha (we have members from Amravati, Chandrapur, Yavatmal, Buldhana and Wardha districts), got to know one another, learnt how to use a tab, felt we didn’t incorporate enough ‘entertainment’ activities in the training schedule (haha!) and even wrote a poem about their time at Bhidi (which is currently being translated from Marathi to English). Overall they seem to be a pretty decent bunch. Here’s hoping they stay that way.

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Household lists- check. Community outreach- check. Recruitment – check.

February 10, 2014 by · No Comments · India Rural Poor, TCi Field Notes, TCi scholars, Women's Empowerment

TCi FIELD NOTES are a series of blog posts dedicated for current TCi Scholars, Fellows, and TCi staff to share experiences, insight, and stories stemming from TCi-funded fieldwork throughout India. Soumya Gupta is current TCi Scholar pursuing a Ph.D in Applied Economics at Cornell. In this post, Soumya, who is carrying out a household survey to collect data for her dissertation, gives a project update from the Chandrapur district (Vidarbha) in India. Read her first post here.

Snapshots from block-level visits across Chandrapur district

Snapshots from block-level visits across Chandrapur district

Our formative research took us over 3,000 kms across 15 blocks of Chandrapur district. Based on that we  selected three blocks for the survey. While paddy is the main crop grown in Mul block (45 kms to the east of Chandrapur city), cotton is the predominant crop grown  in Korpana block (50 km southwest from Chandrapur). The third survey block is Gondpipri. It is 60 km away from Chandrapur in the southeast direction and farming there consists of a mix of cash crops like cotton and soybean, and food crops like paddy.  Our community outreach activities began once we finalized 8 villages for each of the three blocks.

As a first step we visited each village to meet with key village level stakeholders. These included members of the gram panchayat (village level tier of government, the head of which is called the Sarpanch), police patil (police constable) and school principal. We also met with health workers like the Aanganwadi sevika (woman in charge of Aanganwadi centers set up as part of India’s Integrated Child Management Services (ICDS) that provide nutrition education, immunization, supplementation and preschool activities for children 6 months – 6 years) and community health workers known as ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activitist) workers (as part of the National Rural Health Mission). We informed them about what we want to do, why we want to do it and how we plan to go about it.

Children at Aanganwadi centers in the district

Children at Aanganwadi centers in the district

Community outreach and female Sarpanch officers

In many of our sample villages the sarpanch was a woman. It is often felt that while these women occupy the position they have little power in reality. My own experience from work in Rajasthan a few years back was witness to that. This time around I have met some women who are very proactive and engaged in village level concerns and activities. However largely it is still the men – their husbands in particular – who come to the forefront, at least in the beginning. A very common conversation was this –

Us – Could you tell us where we can find the Sarpanch/Panchayat member of your village?
Respondent – Oh, the Sarpanch/panchayat member is at home
Us – Could you please ask him/her to meet us at the panchayat office?
Man – Yes?
Us – Are you the Sarpanch/panchayat member?
Man – Yes …<we tell him about the survey>

Us –  So sahib (sir), do you have any questions for us…do we have your support?

Man – Yes you can go ahead
Us – So will you discuss it at the next gram sabha (village meeting)?
Man – No…. because I am not the sarpanch/panchayat member!
Us – Oh, you’re not?! Then who is?
Man- My wife
<We would then request him to let us meet his wife and repeat the conversation with her>.

Panchayats and sanitation
In some villages though a few/all panchayat members have been dismissed from their posts. The first time we heard this we were hesitant to ask why that was the case. To be honest the first thought that came to our mind was some form of corruption. But when we heard the same thing in a few more villages we eventually asked other community members about it. We were then told about a rule that requires there to be a toilet in the home of members of the panchayat. Linking a position of responsibility and power to sanitation seems like a novel idea. On the other hand, no member seemed to be in any particular hurry to construct that toilet even after 6-8 months of being dismissed.

Dismissed panchayat bodies however posed a problem in our second round of community outreach activities when we had to meet the village communities at large and our selected households in particular. Usually we would email the household list to the computer operator who hands it over to the sarpanch, who in turn hands it over to the sipahi (guard). It is the sipahi who would accompany us from house to house and/or ask people to collect at a common place so we could brief them about what’s going on. Now when there is no panchayat committee, there is no sipahi who will listen to a disbarred sarpanch and therefore there would be utter chaos when we would reach the village!

Household level lists
During our first visit we realized just how much household level information is collected at the village level. Right from records of household property and water tax to voters’ lists, farmers’ lists, sanitation lists’, annual village level surveys at school-level and quarterly surveys conducted by the aanganwadi workers, we had access to multiple sources for triangulation of data. That helped to generate a list according to our inclusion/exclusion criteria for the survey.

I have to be honest. Generating household level lists was not fun. Transcribing the names from pictures in my phone to excel sheets and then excluding the household that didn’t meet our criteria was the most mind-numbing task ever! Even though the script for Marathi and Hindi is the same (so both Kasim and I would be at it simultaneously) it was often annoying to go through pages and pages of script, some/most of which we couldn’t decipher at one go because they were handwritten in different styles and sizes.

Panchayats and the IT revolution
What’s astonishing is the IT revolution that seems to be spreading – at an institutional level- in Chandrapur district. Each and every village panchayat office that we have visited had a desktop, a printer-scanner-xerox machine, a dongle for accessing the internet and a portable webcam (used to click instant photos for things like an election voting card). And with the exception of one village (where the computer wasn’t working because there was no electricity – because the panchayat didn’t pay their electricity bill), all of these are in perfect working condition. They each have one computer operator – young men and women with diplomas/degrees in computers/information technology. These days they are in the process of creating softcopies of various village level surveys. For the second round of community outreach activities we would email the list of selected households to them a few days in advance. The few times when we had to sit and read out each name one by one to the sipahi over the phone made us realize how much easier things were because of access to email.

Household level meetings
We met with each selected household to identify an index man and woman. We would inform the whole household about what we are studying, why we are doing it and what activities they will take part in (survey and blood-draws). We would then leave a one-page information sheet with our contact information with them. Easily 80-85% of the people we met were fluent in Marathi and Hindi. We did our best to inform them that we are considering both landed as well as landless farmers, people above or below poverty line, of any caste and so on. Even so it was difficult to gauge whether the household met our inclusion criteria since most respondents would give us answers based on their assumption of our inclusion criteria. Very often they thought the survey was only for the landless and in that case the following was a very common conversation:

Us – what do you do?
Respondent – Nothing
Us – What do you mean?
Respondent – you know how it is, I do whatever work I get
Us – What kind of work do you usually get?
Respondent- Oh anything that comes my way
Us – Yes, so what usually comes your way?
Respondent – oh you know…farming
Us – so you do farming….do you own any land?
Respondent – No…
Us – ok so you don’t own any land…
Respondent – Well, I do, but just some xxx acres
Us – ok so you do own land then
Respondent – yes but it’s very little…

Recruitment
We held our recruitment drive at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Science (MGIMS), Wardha. The faculty and staff at the department of medicine were with us throughout the day to make sure things went smoothly. Our candidates were assessed on their knowledge of current affairs, computers as well as their communication skills. I realized how much I take it for granted that one can type or enter basic information in word/excel. The interviews went on well into the night but boy it was such a good feeling when we were done. We finally had our 20 enumerators and 2 supervisors. Another piece of the jigsaw had fallen into place.

By now, we know all the shortcuts to reach the villages, we know all the dhabas (roadside restaurants) and we have our own ranking of their food/dishes so we know where to take our team once the survey starts. Keeping fingers crossed for what lies ahead.