Aizawl: Situated along the India-Bangladesh border, Lawngtlai is one of the most backward districts of Mizoram. Every monsoon, over 40 villages in the district is cursed with natural disasters ranging from floods and landslides, which block roads and hamper transportation of perishable goods. As a result, fruits and vegetables are few and far between and the ones that make it to the villages are expensive.
This is what Shashanka Ala observed when she was posted as deputy commissioner of Lawngtlai in February this year. During her routine inspection of the schools and anganwadis, Ala realised that many of the children in the district were malnourished. In fact, Lawngtlai has the highest rate of malnourished and stunted children in Mizoram with 35.3% stunted children, 21.3% underweight children, and 5.9% severely wasted children, all under the age of five years.
Most of the anganwadis and schools could not provide a diverse diet to the children as vegetables are very expensive and the markets are highly unreliable due to bad transportation network. Ala and a group of civil societies looked for a solution and came up with a remedy — ‘Kan School, Kan Huan’, which in local parlance means, ‘Our School, Our Garden’.
The ‘Project Nutrition Garden’ is an initiative of the district administration of Lawngtlai under Poshan Abhiyan to address the dietary and nutritional needs of children.
“The aim is to make schools, anganwadis and all institutions in Lawngtlai district self-sufficient in fruits and vegetables by 2020,” Ala said.
Under the project, a suitable land of at least 100 square metres was identified in every school and anganwadi by the education department. In all the selected centres, children grow their own fruits and vegetables, reducing the market dependence. The teachers are also trained to make their own compost.
The first phase of the programme covers 213 schools and anganwadis, where fruits and vegetables are cultivated by the students. The headmaster of each school ensured that each batch of students gets a turn to contribute in the garden.
“Funds from different sources were pulled in to provide for the seeds. Parents and town’s people provided the gardening equipment,” Ala said.
With the immense success of the the first phase, the deputy commissioner said that many schools have now asked to be involved with the project. She said that another 188 anganwadis and educational institutions will be included in the second phase by September this year.
The deputy commissioner said that she had written to the state government to mobilise funds and take up this initiative throughout Mizoram. “Why just Mizoram? I think the whole country should take up an initiative like this,” she added.
The third phase will involve livestock and poultry farming that would cover the protein requirements of children. “As most children do not have access to protein sources, having a chicken shed would provide them eggs and cover their protein requirements,” Ala added.
Project Nutrition Garden is the first of its kind in the country. It got recognition when the Vice President of India praised the initiative in Rajya Sabha recently, asking ministers to take it up for the whole of the country.
The best part of the initiative is that it does not require too much money, besides the initial seeds of fruits and vegetables. Ala is now hopeful that the children would take up the initiative at home for taking care of food and nutrition for the entire family.