Shiva does not go to school, but works at a roadside tea stall (Copyright: WFP/Radhika Srivastava)
Eleven-year-old Shiva Adivasi looks every bit like the average teenage boy one would expect to see in the rural hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh. His hair unkempt, his hands and feet covered with layers of dust and his shirt secured in places with pins. But once he begins to speak about himself, the story changes completely.
Unlike other children of his age, Shiva, a resident of Karai village in the Shivpuri district, he does not go to school, “does not have time for games” and has no particular fondness for cricket. Shiva belongs to the highly impoverished Sahariya tribe and is a child worker who puts in 12 hours a day at a roadside tea stall for Rs400 to 600 a month. His job is to fry pakoras (a popular deep-fried snack made of vegetables and flour) and wash utensils. He often burns his hands while frying but says he is used to it now.
Despite these severe adversities, this tribal boy from one of the most backward regions of the state has a smile on his face. “Of late, I have started eating more rotis and I feel stronger than before,” he says with a wide grin. Ask him why and Shiva takes no time to explain. “It is all because of the powder that is added to our wheat when it is milled. That is why our rotis are slightly blackish when roasted but they taste very good,” he says.
Shiva also understands that the powder in the rotis reduces `khoon ki kami’ (not having enough blood) which is how the tribal community refer to what is known as anaemia. Everybody in Shiva’s village now gets this powder mixed into their wheat flour willingly. His village is one of the 500-odd Sahariya tribe villages that are part of WFP’s wheat flour fortification project which is being implemented in the state’s three districts of Shivpuri, Sheopur and Guna, benefitting around 160,000 people.
This initiative specifically targets the Sahariya tribe that is known to have high levels of anaemia and severe malnutrition among women and children, which is responsible for their low life expectancy. WFP provides a pre-blend powder that resembles wheat flour, with no distinct taste or smell, which is added to the wheat grain during the process of milling. The village millers have been given special facilities to store the pre-blend and have been trained repeatedly in the process of mixing the pre-blend and record-keeping.
“It took us several rounds of interaction before the tribal community accepted the fortified flour. Now they understand the benefits very well as they can feel a difference in their energy levels,” says Bharti Agarwal from the NGO Gram Bharti Mahila Mandal, WFP’s partner in this project.
Agarwal says the village millers have been extremely supportive of the programme and are now carrying out the task of mixing the fortificant and keeping records for no incentive whatsoever.
Mill owner Brijesh Tewari from Kota village echoes this and says he is happy to help the Sahariya. “It only takes a few minutes of my time to mix the fortificant. This is making these very poor people healthier and I believe the Almighty will reward me.”
“It is heartening to see how Shiva and children like him are healthier than thanks to this nutritional boost they are now receiving through this fortified wheat flour,” said WFP India Country Director Mihoko Tamamura. “We are tracking the progress of the project closely.”