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Resilience Strategies Applied in Sheopur, India

In-depth interview with Archana Sarkar about the efforts undertaken to raise the resilience level of people living in Sheopur District in Madya Pradesh, India. Archana presents the theory of different capacities that have to be strengthened as well as the actual coping strategies people apply in the drought-struck district, which recently saw severe flooding.

Archana is Advisor Research and M&E at the Global Programme Food and Nutrition Security, Enhanced Resilience as part of SEWOH India.

The interview was conducted by the SNRD Working Group on Food Security and Nutrition is part of the focus theme of newsletter #5.

Pascal Corbé: The article that you just placed on the SNRD Africa website, it was all about resilience and that it is used as a buzzword too often, the concept was not reflected enough in terms of actual application in projects, even though it’s inserted into the project papers all the time. Why is resilience important?

Archana Sarkar: It’s an in-depth ability of the community, of thehousehold or family or of  the nation to sustainably improve their capacities on food and nutrition insecurity for us – we mainly look at it from the lens of nutrition and food security but resilience as such is a broader concept which has like resilience to climatic changes etc.

PC: You can give us a little bit of background on the different levels of resilience so that we can get a bit closer into it.

AC: Resilience could be understood in different levels, that then when there is a stressor or shocker turn up to a poor community – the stressor could be in terms of a climatic crisis like a drought or a flood or it could be an economic crisis that there is job loss in the community or it could be a lack of production crisis that we face sometimes we face food crisis we sometimes this acute price rises.

The resilience acts at different levels – one we call it as absorptive capacity to enhance resilience.  Communities or the households how do they adapt to the climate – that stress and that immediate absorption of the stress – so like it could be like purchasing more food — it could be like some food processing thing like which is local people in India we see that people store their foods in a local way — we call it chutney — like you know they where they put the tomatoes, the dry leaves and put it in some preservative try to store it or for the crisis period.

So this could be like an absorptive capacity, so it could be positive as well as a negative strategy — so there could also be like that people reduce their food intake all people eat like rotten food we also saw in one of our studies – we will also have a second level of resilience which is adaptive capacity where we see an incremental or a strategy little bit of strategy to deal with the crisis – so it could also be like you know promoting kitchen gardens which is a very small garden — it’s a small homestead card and rural communities which we are also trying to promote in rural India and also in many other programs across the world, where you at least try to promote four or five,  three or four vegetable plants in high-stress situations like which can grow with little care in droughts, which need little water – this could be one of the adaptive strategies — or it could be like more on economic ground, it could be migration let me almost see a lot of migration many of our rural areas during the lean season, like when there is drought, when there is summer, when there is no water — migration is also an adaptive kind of capacity that is an incremental adaption by the community – and it could be a broader way –  it could be transformative that the government can play a role of improving the whole lot of things so as to bring it to a status where the resilience could be you know dealt in a much better way – so some of the examples could be like seed banks like –  I can show you that this is one of the things that we kind of promoting where there is a seed calendar – in one of our programs where we try to educate them on how to store seeds which stores which seeds are more good for which seasons when to sow them – so it is like a strategy to deal with this with the crisis of food security and it could also be like improving the subsidized foods grain distribution system which we have in India – t is called public distribution system, for vulnerable people — so this could also be like improving the coverage or having some water strategies like check dams – so these are some of the transformative strategies

PC: Okay there is a great new analytic framework to capture reality and in a way it’s all just development as we’ve always done it — how does this new analytic concept really help you more to approach your development work as if you would just do it the way you’ve done it before?

AS: Resiliences takes you through during the lean period during the crisis period ,the unforeseen crises, unforeseen shocks which you may see today or you may not see also — the community may not see also — so it prepares you — it gives you the strategies to deal with those stressors and shocks we often see that women and children are like they are mostly facing the food crisis more — so resilience could be a strategy that you know, different strategies a combination of strategies which could help these vulnerable groups could become more food secure.

PC: Archana you prepared also a study just beginning of September where you looked at some formative research — can you maybe just give us some detail of what this research was about and what came out of it?

AS: It’s a brief assessment to understand like what are the resilience strategies what are the stressors in our project area which is Sheopur, which is one of the most backward districts in Madhya Pradesh in India and it’s mainly inhabited by scheduled tribes which are known as the primitive people – there the food habits are more traditional there is a dependency on the forest food and also the droughts and the terrain is very rocky there — so there is also an additional water crisis also that the community faces and due the remoteness of this we found that the stressors are highly prevalent in this region – and so this study was done to understand what are the basic stressors and shocks for the community and which are the coping strategies – so it was a qualitative study where we interviewed few stakeholders which are the government officials like district food officer or district food and civil supply officer — we have this Ministry of food and public distribution who distribute food grains — mainly rice and wheat to our vulnerable communities at a very subsidized rate, but since it’s a very big hierarchical and it’s a very big layered ministry sometimes the distribution is a problem and also officials is a problem — and we also spoke with our other minister counterpart which is the Department of women and child development and district officials there — we spoke to Anganwadi workers who are the frontline nutrition health workers and we also spoke to our beneficiaries,, the women in this age group –

PC: In terms of resilience and your study were there any findings on stressors that were not that obvious that are a bit counterintuitive or did you find some strategies that are very interesting, how people actually cope in a way that you haven’t really expected?

AS: We found that women had less access to food in the household and some of the coping strategies that were there in this regard were that in the absorptive category, we had like people kind of share food when there is a lean season or when the stressor was there — they had food preservation techniques, some of the local food preservation techniques which were running through the generations – and then also like making pickles or making chutney — which are not nutritionally that good but still it provided them some food when the vegetables were almost not there — and then also like since it’s a tribal region and forest is nearby — although the forest is going down this region also —   so we found that they also a dependency towards forest food and you know promoting the use of forest or local variant foods and vegetables would be an important absorptive strategy of the community which we also promote and we found that this was some of the strategies which the family kind of or the households kind of normally do when there is a crisis when there is a lean season

– we also found some negative strategies where there was stealing of the PDS food ICDs food PDS is this public distribution food and we also have the food from packed rations for the women, pregnant women and which is given by the Department of women and child — the adaptive strategies could be like the migration or could be the homestead garden that was developed, the dietary diversity knowledge that that could be promoted or to them improvement of PDS coverage which was there when there is a drought the government increases the PDS coverage – and there were large transformative changes also which was like at the community level like more a lot of women when doing this small shop to shops , they opened their small shops which helped them in you know to mitigate the stressors.

PC: You mentioned that they make pickles or chutney and that might not be the best way to do that — that brought me to the idea that chutney tastes very well, so there might be some strategies that are not that effective in a way but they you know they appeal in a certain way because they appeal to the taste or it’s just the way it’s always been done you know the traditions sort of thing that might be in the way — did you find that there are some strategies that are actually very effective or did you also to find strategies that were very ineffective — did you get any ideas on that and maybe how to deal with that from a project level with this sort of thing?

AS: They can use better techniques also food preservation where the nutrients are stored or where the food can be prevented from rotting and secondly like use of local food variants like you know there are traditional like or seeds like in millets on vichara which were more nutritious but over the time that even these tribal people were not consuming it — so improving these food practices which are traditional and which could be easily available in that region which can easily grow also in this region like some wild variants of vegetables and in the foods, these are very effective strategies — we can always promote them in our project also in other projects also the government and also project in our promote them — then the seed banking the seed banks the seed calendars storing of seeds using a homestead garden.

PC: You mentioned already the shocks that were experienced, anything on that that was very interesting to you?

AS: We had floods that everything was overflowing — there was no drinking water and although it was welcomed for them because they had not seen rain for so many years,but the community was totally unprepared, the government was unprepared for floods – our public distribution system is trying to reach to every vulnerable community for subsidized food xxxx — we still saw women who were excluded from the PDS were eligible but excluded — and also a stressor on the family level like that women were getting less food children did not have complementary feeding and complimentary food rations which they should be getting

PC: So I guess your concept of resilience needs to look at being resilient to also stressors that are not that probable to happen.

AS: Yeah when we talk about resilience we talk about foreseen and unforeseen stressors, unforeseen shocks — so a community may have slowly got used to some kind of stressors, the resilience should address that regular stressor very well because that needs action or that needs attention but we also should understand what are the not that regular crises both at the community level at the household level also the infrastructural level also

PC: well isn’t that a bit difficult to bring people to prepare for things that are in there in their mind I’m not gonna happen maybe in their lifetime that only happened in the old times like the floods maybe now — so what how do you how do you deal with that as a project

AS: yes it is a little difficult to put people in the perspective of long-term resilience or dealing with crisis and in the project we are trying to find out the strategies which could be easily adopted at the community level, at the household level because they are already in a kind of a crisis situation – most of them go for daily wage workers – and also we try to walk with the government at different levels like seed banks like seed storage seed distribution or helping the family to learn techniques of cooking which is more nutritious which is more local cuisine which using simple things like using like moringa leaves. you can take an example – Moringa is a plant which grows very commonly in many parts of India but the food habits did not include Moringa so far because the leaves taste little bitter, but in some of our cooking strategies what we did is that we try to show them differently cooking Moringa leaves, but it still adhered to their cooking style to the normal tastes that they are used to and we saw a difference in the use of moringa leaves in the community – because Moringa in this in this region it doesn’t need much time to grow also — so where in the beginning we did not have any Moringa leaves, people consuming any Moringa, but now it could be one of the resilience strategies, just an example.

PC: So it seems as if there is sort of another fourth capacity — I’m looking at your chart there with the three capacities right now — for me it seems there’s another very important, maybe horizontal capacity that’s sort of the ability to change your behavior and that needs to be supported by the project — behavior in terms of how you personally deal how you change your way to adapt to climate change, how you actually willing to take up different cooking techniques — I don’t want to confuse your concept but I think there’s this behavior change capacity seems to be quite important.

AS: Yes, behavior change is quite a broad concept and what we I think we should look for is more specific areas of behavior which could be addressed too easily, like we cannot change a lot in especially feeding behaviors too difficult to change in communities and for us also it’s difficult to change – but yes we can give some of these additional things or try to promote which are the strategies which could be how they say easily changed in their normal household practices — if you want if you ask them to make little changes it may be possible , but bigger changes is difficult to attain so that the strategy should be like making smaller changes in the habits — so one of the strategies is that we are doing this group meetings and trainings of Anganwadi workers — so participatory learning in action which is called PLA, we have rounds of training for Anganwadi workers which is very intensive for the Anganwadi worker and they in turn train the women in structured sessions, to improve the nutrition behavior, good cookie practices feeding during pregnancy and the complementary feeding, exclusive breastfeeding, – so these are the ways which could strategize on we can see what are the implemental benefits of this action towards the components of the resilience, I mean you have to see how it addresses even during the lean season.

PC: In terms of your project work is there a means that you usually use that is working out very nicely?

AS: Yes, we found that training of Anganwadi workers is a strategy which should be dealt innovatively and little thoughtfully because these are the last mile deliveries, last mile delivery persons and they play an important role in improving both nutrition security food security and also in building the enhanced resilience also, they would play an important role – so like training it could be innovative and interesting so we have this PLA trainings which are very intensive trainings for four days in after every six months and which I think would increase their knowledge – and also with the help of the Department of women and child development in the government of Qatar Pradesh in India, one of the state central states in India, we also developed our online training platform for our Anganwadi workers which is a video-based interactive training module for Anganwadi workers for improving the nutrition of women and children.

PC: what do you say to the projects in terms of how to actually implement resilience?

AS: The project needs to evaluate these strategies, understand if it is addressing resilience in these five frameworks which we also mentioned in the article and also somehow measure also resilience that how much it has improved  it resilience – there are many measurements of the resilience and still developing in the context of food and nutrition security and there is an index called xxx, a resilience index measurement analytics so it’s called xxxx that is one of the ways you can measure resilience in your project and then there are other qualitative and quantitative ways to measure resilience — so approaching the framework and having something to measure resilience is important when we address resilience — so it’s a step slightly different from food security and food and nutrition security only.