Since the start of 2021, SALONI has been working with environmental research and action group - Chintan, to improve access to nutrition for women and girls amongst some of Delhi’s most marginalised communities.
The project aims to work with 700 women from Delhi’s waste-picker community to give them the tools to both grow and cook highly nutritious foods like micro greens and vegetables which they would not otherwise have access to. As, Bharati Chaturvedi, founder and director of Chintan, reflects:
“Hunger is a form of systemic violence against women. Addressing this bias is a fundamental part of broader action to mitigate climate change and promote the circular economy.”
The project is implemented with very specific local knowledge and an understanding of how certain foods like tomatoes have luxury connotations which means they are monopolised and eaten by male family members. Instead the project will focus on micro-greens as well as sprouts which also have high nutritional value. Chaturvedi adds “The men don’t touch sprouts and raw food!”
SALONI and Chintan are working with the women to establish kitchen gardens for micro-greens like easy-to-grow mustard seeds which are enzyme rich. It will also run cooking lessons so that the participants know how to gain the maximum nutritional value from the vegetables. To assess the impact of the project, Chintan will also use various tools, overseen by medical and nutritional experts, to monitor the health of all the women who participate in the project.
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Chaturvedi continues, “The micro-garden project for women living in informal settlements is something we have wanted to do for a long time, but only Saloni Lodha understood the vision of the project.”
As the second wave recedes and international media attention inevitably shifts elsewhere, the most marginalised amongst India’s poor communities are reeling from the impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic has further highlighted the urgent need to provide long-term solutions to improving healthcare and nutrition. The micro-garden project is a small but effective step towards that goal.
The importance of such a project is summed up by one of the participants, thirty-five year old Sangeeta, from Bhalaswa Resettlement Colony, Delhi who says “My daughter’s health is not well, she falls sick all the time. If I can somehow feed her better, if I can give her green saag (spinach), I know it will help.”
Who are Chintan?
Chintan are an environmental research and action group, using waste as a tool to fight poverty, child labour gender based violence and exclusion and climate change, while creating green livelihoods. Chintan recognises the vital service that waste-pickers provide to urban communities for which they should receive a fair wage, proper health and safety protections and greater social recognition and dignity. They run several initiatives including ‘No Child in Trash’ which provides daily after-school clubs teaching Hindi, English, Maths and digital literacy for up to 2,500 children from waste-picker communities across different areas of Delhi.
Why create this project?
Waste-pickers are at the bottom rung of the society in urban India. They face social discrimination, endemic poverty and a lack of access to basic services. Chintan’s research found that within these communities (as elsewhere) women and girls are socially conditioned to eat last and less well than their male counterparts. This has massive impacts upon the women’s health and long-term nutrition.
The impacts of COVID-19 on the livelihoods of waste pickers will only exacerbate this. Markets for waste have been impacted by lockdowns, especially in industrial areas. Waste-pickers who depend upon selling waste materials at optimal prices are seeing a significant drop in their earnings.
Who will this project help?
These communities live, in “informal” settlements characterised by basic one-room dwellings. However basic the rooms, families are charged hefty rents, often equating to as much as 50% of their average monthly income.
Three waste pickers communities in different areas of Delhi were chosen by Chintan to become part of the project. Four-hundred and ten households from Bhalaswa and two-hundred from Mahipalpur were chosen with the help of Safai Sena (An Army of Cleaners), a registered group of waste pickers, doorstep waste collectors, and other types of recyclers. Both communities have experienced a sharp drop in income due to strict COVID protocols on waste from landfills and industrial areas which have been on full or partial lockdown for many months.
Ninety households from Wazirabad was also chosen due to the impacts of COVID and the vulnerability of the community there. Bhalaswa Landfill and Bhalaswa Resettlement Colony, North-West Delhi: The community has seen a sharp income drop as they depend on landfill waste for income. The supply of this has greatly been reduced due to strict COVID protocols on waste on landfills.
Mahipalpur was chosen because it demonstrated excellent women-led leadership for collecting water during the first national lockdown. It’s one of the most neglected slums, and showed the potential for long term adoption of the project, with many women from this area actively asking to be part of the kitchen garden initiative.
Wazirabad, a small settlement of wastepickers, was comparatively a new area for Chintan but previous relief showed that that the area would not recover as rapidly from the impacts of COVID-19 as the others. This is because during national lockdowns and ongoing partial restrictions on movement they have experienced greately reduced access to work since the industrial areas they uslaly pick waste from have been closed or only partially open since March 2020. Hence ninety households from this area were included.
How will the project measure its impacts?
Chintan has carefully studied how best to implement and measure the tangible impacts of the project. Core indicators of the relationship between nutrition and good health have been identified with the aid of DocGenie, an online medical portal that includes doctors with public health experience relevant to the women’s lives and situation. Key health targets identified are increased weight, blood tests to detect increased levels of iron (since anaemia is a common problem amongst the women and girls) and increased calcium levels. In order to assess food preferences, the women will be encouraged to keep food diaries, this will also help understand the women’s own perception and experiences of food. Since many of the women are illiterate teachers from Chintan’s existing programmes are being trained to collect the data and help the women fill in the food diaries accurately.
Activities so far: Feeding marginalized waste picker women and girls after COVID19 in NCR, Delhi
During February and March 2021, the team including a gardener, a farmer and several local outreach co-ordinators brought together by Chintan implemented the first phase of the project. They made field visits and held discussions with small groups of women on how to start kitchen gardens. Initially, the women were hesitant, worried about their lack of knowledge and the skills required. The project team listened to their concerns and explained how they would support them. Reassured, the community members decided to undertake a “Shramdaan” (a voluntary contribution by the person towards community welfare involving physical effort). “We are ready to contribute with our pots for urban farming. We’ll take good care of the plants. Let’s try, why not?” said one of the women, Poonam Devi, 35. The first sowing period occurred between March and April 2021 with a planting drive of pumpkin and spinach seeds in pots by a total of six-hundred and sixty-four women across the three areas. Progress was slowed as the city went under lockdown due to resurgence of the COVID19 in the capital from April 20th 2021. One-hundred and seventy-five women from the three areas returned to their villages in rural areas, since they feared a prolonged lockdown and food shortages in Delhi. Meanwhile, their neighbours are taking care of the plants and Chintan now plans to include these other women in the overall project.