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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Children's Science Congress



(Under the Sub Title – Bio Diversity in Man made and Land Ecosystems )

Team : Suresh Dudve – Team Leader
Majali J.J.
Seetaram Dudve
Deewansingh Brahmane
Suresh Barole

The team was supported by almost 60 students of Adharshila Learning Centre, in the field surveys. In a sense the whole Centre was immersed in Bio Diversity.

Guide : Jayashree

Institution : Adharshila Learning Centre

Area of Study : Four villages namely – Sakad, Chatli, Kunjari and Merkhedi – of Newali Block, or Barwani district in western Madhya Pradesh. The district is a predominantly adivasi district ( 78%). It is situated in the Satpuda range bordering Maharashtra.

Importance and Relevance of the Topic

India is striving to stand amongst the leaders in the world community, but malnutrition is mocking us in the face. The fact that 40 – 45 % of the country’s children are malnutritioned is raising serious questions on the claims to development.Our strides in space are of no meaning if our children are malnutritioned, women are anemic. Something is gravely wrong somewhere.
Most children who have taken part in this project have suffered malnutrition in their childhood or seen there kith and kin die due to malnutrition. Majali’s eyesight is seriously impaired due to chronic Vitamin A deficiency during childhood. Malnutrition is very close to the hearts of the children.

Various surveys have shown that 58% - 60 % children of Madhya Pradesh are malnutritioned, much higher than the National average. Most of these are children of farmers and laborers.

The Journey of Discovery.

The study is based on the following sources –
Interviews of about 50 – 60 old people. Interviews of old people from outside the four villages were also recorded.
Household surveys in the four villages.
Books and journals were also used to understand the issues in depth.
We took advise from doctors, professors, organic farmers.
Some friends helped us search the internet. Due to electricity problems we could not do this ourselves.

Last year while learning about malnutrition and other health problems we surveyed the children of surrounding villages, taking their weights. We were shocked to see the extent of malnutrition. We saw children of 3 - 4 years who could not stand up. There were many children with Grade IV malnutrition. Many children from this group died after our survey. We reported this in papers and also to local officials.

On the 15th August we took a pledge to remove malnutrition and free the farms from market dependency. We used the opportunity of the Children’s Science Congress to go into the reasons of such wide spread malnutrition in our area, in depth.

We began by interviewing the old people of the villages to find out what they thought about the whole issue. About 50 old people were interviewed. Almost all of them were of the opinion that the quality of food had gone down in terms of quantity, quality and variety. They were the generation brought up on milk, ghee and curd. Even the poor in the village got a share of all this and at least pure butter milk was in abundance for everybody.

They also talked about the increased dependence on cash which was forcing everybody into cash crops and making farming totally dependent on the market. Farming which was once supposed to be an enterprise where - in people enjoyed independence, was now totally at the mercy of moneylenders and market prices.

They were convinced that due to the use of chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds, which were promoted by Govt. agencies in the beginning, had led to loss of fertility of the soil.It was difficult for our young minds to digest what these old people were telling us. We were almost convinced that the adivasis of our area were going ahead on the development road – what about all the motorcycles, tractors, threshers, tube wells, pumps and irrigated fields, and quintals of cotton and soybean that we were selling by tractors, that we have been seeing since childhood ?

We undertook about 15 – 16 household surveys to validate these claims. A lot of food availability surveys were conducted. After these surveys we realized that behind the seeming prosperity there was severe food insecurity.

We found that -

There were about 120 types of food items which people ate of which now only 36 types were available. Most of the fruits, leafy vegetables, gums, honey, meat etc. available in the past have never been seen by the present generation. All these provided rare minerals, proteins, fats.
In most households only 7.14 kg pulses/person/year was available as against the required 22 – 27 kg/ person/ year( ICDS) .

Availability of milk and milk products had gone down drastically. Out of the 73% people who had got milk in there childhood only 17.39% are getting it now.

Where did all this vanish and why ?

We talked to people about this. About 40 years ago the govt. started promoting chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds. The forests also started depleting about this time due to the pressure of urbanisation and population. Since then it has been a down slide. As dependency on the market increased people were forced to go in for cash crops. Cash crops meant loans at interests as high as 150%, dependency on the market, monoculture and depletion of the soil fertility. Before they realized people were in debt but started enjoying playing with cash. To repay loans more cash crops. This becomes a vicious cycle.

Also the mainstreaming pressure ( including our education system) forced the people to reject their traditional knowledge. They were made to lose faith in their knowledge systems and believe in the ideas being promoted by the market and Govt. agencies in tandem.

The main lesson that we learnt at the end of the exercise were that –

· Due to the depletion of farm and forest biodiversity about 54% of our food items have gone.
· Of the 65 items that we got now only 9 remain, i.e. an 87% decrease.
· Now 75% of our food items come from the farm.

These food crops are fast losing out to cash crops as market dependency is increasing in all aspects of our lives from clothes to health.

· Coarse grain and millets like bhadi which provided food security in droughts or scanty rainfall years are almost on the verge of vanishing.

· The quality of the soil has depleted, leading to loss of nutritional content of food.

· Cash crops now occupy the most fertile lands, leaving second grade land for food crops. Wheat is replacing traditional grains where irrigation's is there.

· The diversity in crops ensured that some crops will grow well in spite of changes in monsoons. Now with single crops occupying full fields the bad effects of erratic monsoons is more pronounced.


The loss of bio diversity has led to severe food insecurity. The quality, quantity and variety of food has decreased.
Adivasis and other small and marginal farmers are at the mercy of the market and dole provided by Govt. agencies.
If nothing is done then the future is bleak for farmers.

What is to be done ?

A strong campaign to save the farms from the clutches of the market and make the farmer independent, by promoting natural and organic farming techniques.

Fight malnutrition by making people aware about proper diet and importance of growing diverse food crops.

Awareness building programme in schools.

Incorporating related topics in the school curriculum.

Regenerate and save existing forest areas.

Re establish the self esteem of the farmer and adivasis. Revive useful traditional farming practices.

What we are doing ?

Natural farming on our campus.

School awareness programme.

Motivating families who have malnutritioned children to give special food preparations and grow vegetables. Children learnt to make sattoo and even gave it to many families.

Spreading the word through Baal – Melas.

Continue our research on this and related topics.

Motivate children and adults to adopt natural farming practices