Assessment of individual household kitchen gardens and supportive strategies towards morbidity reduction and improvement of anthropometric values in a malnourished tribal population at Melghat (INVITED)



Dr. Mahtab S. Bamji, INSA Honorary Scientist, Dangoria Charitable Trust, Hyderabad.

Dr. G. Subbulakshmi, Former Director, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai


  1. Birdi T, Joshi S, Kotian S, Shah S. Possible causes of malnutrition in Melghat, a tribal region of  Maharashtra, India. Global Journal of Health Science, 2014, 6: 164-173.
  2. Policy brief- Perennial Kitchen gardens – A solution for Melghat Malnutrition.
  3. Birdi T , Shah S. Implementing perennial kitchen garden model to improve diet diversity in Melghat, India. Global  Journal of Health Sciences , 2015. In Press.

Principal Investigator Dr. Tannaz Birdi

Project Team Dr. Sujay Joshi, Dr. ShratiKotian

Funder Jamsetji Tata Trust, Mumbai

Duration May 2011 – Nov 2013

Budget Rs.54.91 Lakhs

The repertoire of plant based research at FMR prompted the Tata Trusts to invite the foundation to undertake an intervention study addressing malnutrition in Melghat by implementing a Kitchen Garden


The recurring news of malnutrition deaths amongst the Korku tribe of Melghat in Amravati District of Maharashtra has held national attention since 1996. To address this, in June 2011, we initiated a two year pilot project on the establishment of perennial kitchen gardens and nutrition education in Dharni block of Melghat. The project initially covered 396 households in ten villages however, with a growing demand for inclusion; the project covered 1,580 households in 15 villages. The project supported development of skills, knowledge and basic start-up tools to implement kitchen gardens.

Malnutrition was found to be highly prevalent amongst all age groups. Women suffered from a heavy workload and under-nutrition, with 81% weighing below 50 kg. The mother's lack of nutrition and hygiene knowledge, along with faulty weaning practices (33% of infants were started on complimentary feeding at 1 year instead of the recommended 6 months), reflected in high levels of under-nutrition in the 0-5 age group.

Cereals supplied by the Public Distribution System (PDS) and pulses either grown in their farm or bought from the market - though insufficient, did partially meet the caloric requirements of the study population. Intake of Green Leafy Vegetables (GLV), a vital source of micro-nutrients was minimal and merely used as garnishing. Consumption of all other food categories was inadequate due to lack of awareness, affordability and accessibility. Additionally, the inability to store vegetables also affected their consumption.

PRA Activity with school children to determine gender based work distributionNutrition messages to school children in the form of a gameCooking and tasting demonstration of garden cress parathas for village women[]

The community perceived malnutrition as severe muscle wasting and thinness and thought that it only affected children. They believed that satisfaction of hunger was enough and had no understanding of micro-nutrient deficiency and its link to malnutrition.

Key features of Kitchen Garden Model:

  • The plants selected were micronutrient dense and perennial to provide produce throughout the year.
  • Perennials (trees/climbers) enhanced sustainability since external motivation was not required once plants matured.
  • Trees had a 3 fold advantage: They withstood adverse climatic conditions, required minimum labour and had a higher yield for area occupied making it suitable for households with small plots.
  • In the initial 2-3 years while the trees reached maturity, an interim supply of seeds of GLVs sustained motivation.
  • The water scarcity was overcome by using household waste water from hand and utensil washing to water the climbers and trees.  Where necessary, use of a drip system needs to be popularized for watering trees in the initial period ensuring their survival.
  • Households were encouraged to harvest and distribute excess seeds to relatives and neighbours rather than setting up nurseries as a means of livelihood for a few.
  • Focus on income generation alone did not translate into improved nutrition practices. Although the consumption of GLVs was minimal, household money went into buying consumer goods like mobile phones rather than nutritious food. Creating awareness about investing in health through nutritious food was vital.
  • The variety of perennially growing crops led to diet diversification but not a substantial increase in the quantity consumed.

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