Earlier this year, Trickle Up India Foundation and NIRMAN Odisha organized a Nutrition Festival to raise awareness among the Juang community on the importance of nutrition-forward and adaptive eating habits. Food festivals are an effective way to tie into Juang’s own ceremonies and celebrations highlighting indigenous knowledge and local practices. The objective of this festival was to create awareness about nutritious and healthy food habits and also to improve nutritional outcomes for holistic nutrition among our target program areas with the Juang people.
The Juang tribe are considered a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) by the Indian government. There are 13 such protected groups identified by the Indian government in Odisha. Juang people live primarily in the Gonasika hills in the Keonjhar district of Odisha where there is the highest concentration of PVTG in Odisha.
Juang people are heavily reliant on natural sources of running water for agriculture, drinking water, and household needs including cooking. Increased contamination of their water has led to greater health risks and challenges in ensuring healthy food outcomes. Moreover, incidences of mosquito-borne illness increased exponentially as standing water became a breeding ground for pests. Despite the sacred nature of water among this group, Juang people continue to lack consistent access to clean drinking water, negatively impacting their nutrition and health.
In 2016, Nagada received negative media attention when 22 Juang children died, reportedly from malnutrition. Since then, the government and NGOs have jumped into action to develop the area and support the building of roads to increase food access while also improving sustainable development efforts. Trickle Up India Foundation initiated the MPOWERED project with support from Tata Communications Ltd. to facilitate sustainable and climate-resilient livelihood practices among the Juang tribe. With NIRMAN Odisha as the implementation partner as of 2022, we engaged in more participatory dialogue to directly address the needs of people living in extreme poverty in this area. Among other project activities, MPOWERED works with Juang women to establish nutrition gardens and host food festivals.
In order to improve nutrition outcomes among the Juangs, NIRMAN Odisha and Trickle Up India Foundation held a Nutrition Festival on March 21, 2023, to celebrate nutritious preparations of nutrient-dense local crops. The promotion of local crops helps Juang people and others living in extreme poverty identify opportunities for nutrition in their own backyards and increases access to sustainable health outcomes. This also served as an education opportunity about the overconsumption of carbohydrates compared to other food types.
The festival highlighted 200 types of locally prepared dishes including some uncultivated foods like wild tubers. The festival menu included non-vegetarian preparations taking advantage of the local resources, such as country chicken, winged and weaver ant eggs, and crabs. Attendees were even able to try a local specialty – porridge made from perilla seeds. It was clear from this event that Juang women are eager to make and cultivate nutritious foods for themselves and their community and were not shy in using the nutritious local options available to them.
Smart Sakhis, or local coaches in the MPOWERED project, introduced the event and spoke directly to attendees, further solidifying the local connection. They also facilitated the presentation of awards to local collectives and emphasized the longevity of these sustainable development efforts in Odisha. Community members joined in the celebration by performing local songs and dances celebrating the Juang cultural identity.
This is a part of Trickle Up India Foundation’s larger effort to implement thematic interventions to support the inclusive development of marginalized groups in India. Since persistent malnutrition is a barrier to full social and economic inclusion, the MPOWERED project run by Trickle Up India Foundation with support from Tata Communications Ltd., included project activities to support improved nutrition outcomes among our participants.