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Dr.Ananya Awasthi

The spotlight on nutrition has intensified both within India and on the global stage. No longer pushed to the sidelines, the nutrition agenda has become a priority for governments and development partners worldwide. Driven by the evolution of global evidence on nutrition, it is very evident that nutritional outcomes are influenced by multiple determinants, thus underscoring the need for a multi-pronged and holistic approach to address the malnutrition burden.

Against this backdrop, understanding the strategic shift in the National Nutrition Policy of India, which houses the world’s largest child and adolescent population, becomes very critical. This policy not only defines the national agenda for the nutrition mission but also has the potential to shape the larger global agenda of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) acting as the nodal agency for steering India’s nutrition policy framework, the evolution from “PoshanAbhiyaan” towards the adoption of “SakshamAnganwadi and Poshan 2.0” guidelines, also known as Poshan 2.0, marks a pivotal transition. Defined as an Integrated Nutrition Support Program, Poshan 2.0 stands for the restructuring of Anganwadi Services and PoshanAbhiyaan into one program that aims to promote multi-sectoral convergence for targeted nutritional outcomes. Poshan2.0  offers a comprehensive and multi-sectoral strategy to promote balanced diets, leverage traditional wisdom, use technology for monitoring last-mile delivery of nutrition services, and prioritize people’s participation in the collective fight against malnutrition at the grassroots.

This brings us to the critical question: How does Poshan 2.0 mark a strategic shift in India’s national nutrition policy?

First, Poshan 2.0 marks a move towards diet-based solutions for holistically addressing the burden of malnutrition. The guidelines identify dietary diversity, good eating habits, and the development of green ecosystems as key strategies for sustainable health and nutritional outcomes. As we break down these strategies into actionable guidance, it translates into consumption of fresh and local food produce like fruits and vegetables, cultivation of native crops like millets or nutri-cereals that are suited to local agro-climatic cropping patterns, promotion of regional meal plans, and uptake of culturally contextual and nutritious food recipes.

One innovation that stands out in this strategy is the setting up of PoshanVatikas or nutri-gardens at AngawadiCenters, government schools and Panchayat lands. In line with the vision of ‘AatmaNirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Vocal for Local’; by 2023 more than 6.42 lakh PoshanVatikas had been set up across India with the aim of supplying fresh fruits and vegetables for local consumption at the AnganwadiCenters.

Second, Poshan 2.0 puts a major emphasis on effective delivery and uptake of high quality and nutrient dense Take Home Rations (THR) for children (6 months-3 years), pregnant and lactating women, and adolescent girls (focus on NE states and aspirational districts). Delivered through an infrastructure of 1.4 million AnganwadiCenters under MoWCD’s Supplementary Nutrition Program, Poshan 2.0 clearly distinguishes THR from raw ration. And specifies that as opposed to simply distributing raw rice or wheat under the THR program, recipes for THR must stick to the prescribed nutritional norms for calories, proteins, and essential micronutrients.

The inclusion of millets, fortified rice, nuts, oilseeds, jaggery and fresh food produce that is suited to local tastes and culturally appropriate is strongly encouraged. An equal focus has been laid on the quality of THR being procured by states with the provision for random lab testing of samples through Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) owned or authorized laboratories. As of January 2024, Anganwadi services are providing take home rations to more than 31.5 million beneficiaries for at least 21 days in a month.

In this regard, another important aspect of Poshan 2.0 guidelines is the plan to strengthen, upgrade, and rejuvenate 2 lakh AnganwadiCenters (AWCs) as ‘SakshamAnganwadis’ at the rate of 40,000 per year nationwide. The focus of SakshamAnganwadis is on convergence with education development programs, enhancing infrastructure with amenities like internet connectivity, LED screens, water purifiers, and early childhood care and education resources such as smart learning aids, audio-visual aids, child-friendly learning equipment, and educational artwork.

Third, Poshan 2.0 envisages technology playing a key role in tracking the nutritional parameters of target beneficiaries and delivery of critical Anganwadi services to the last mile. Manifested in the form of a real-time mobile-based monitoring tool, Poshan Tracker represents one of the largest nutrition surveillance systems in the world.

Rolled out by the MoWCD, this tool enables more than a million Anganwadi workers across the country to share real-time data on children’s growth parameters, delivery of take-home rations, tracking of eligible beneficiaries, and overall functioning of Anganwadicenters. As of January 2024, Poshan Tracker is monitoring the delivery of key Anganwadi services to more than 99 million beneficiaries, including pregnant and lactating women, children up to the age of 6 years and adolescent girls in northeast region and aspirational high-focus districts.

Fourth, Poshan 2.0 further intensifies the focus on Jan Andolan as a tool for large-scale mobilization of people to recognize nutrition as a social problem and thus act collectively to address the health and nutritional needs of the local communities. Until now, more than 900 million sensitization activities have been carried out across the country as a part of the Jan Andolan.

Moving a step beyond, Poshan 2.0 aims to transform the Jan Andolan campaign to enlist people’s participation or “Jan Bhagidari” for improving transparency and accountability of Anganwadi services. Building on the vision of grass-roots mobilization of beneficiaries, guidelines also envisage a framework for “PoshanPanchayats.” Defined as an action-oriented community dialogue, PoshanPanchayats also foresee a big role for the utilization of “People’s Audit” as a mechanism for improving bottom-up accountability of Anganwadi services.

Conclusively, Poshan 2.0 guidelines signal a holistic shift in India’s strategy to address malnutrition through limitless possibilities and approaches like incentivizing nutrition-sensitive food systems, leveraging the benefits of traditional as well as fortified foods, improving bottom-up accountability of services, breaking the horizontal and vertical silos between different ministries and tiers of the government for multi-sectoral convergence, and driving a fundamental change towards healthier eating habits.

While setting the policy framework is only the first step, the impact of Poshan 2.0 will rest upon how well this policy guidance translates into actionable and monitorable programs on the ground. As the Poshan 2.0 guidelines get socialized and adopted across the country, some of the critical game changers to watch out for are the capacities of states to carry out effective implementation, convergence frameworks for the nutrition program at the district level, training and incentivization of Anganwadi workers to take upon the expanded mandate, and most importantly, enlisting people’s participation in the national drive to achieve “KuposhanMukta Bharat.”

The writer is a public policy professional with training in Global Health from Harvard University and founder of Anuvaad Solutions- an accelerator that works on translating science for policy action.

Courtesy PIB Srinagar

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