A government-backed women’s self-help group programme in Odisha sustained food security during Covid-19 lockdown, finds a study.
In March of 2020, India’s government announced a strict lockdown with just four hours notice, including a ban on the informal and traditional food outlets that 80 to 90 per cent of Indians rely on for their main source of food.
In the study, researchers from the Alliance of Bioversity International and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) explored the impact of women’s self-help group programmes on food availability, access, utilisation, stability, agency, and sustainability. Their findings were published in the journal World Development.
These (women-only rotating savings and credit associations with a long history in India), procured fresh fruit and vegetables from farmers, hired transport, purchased more vegetables from wholesalers, and sold the food to people in local and urban markets via truck, cart, or motorbike, explained Jonathan Mockshell, an agricultural economist at the Alliance of Bioversity and (CIAT).
“Our research has shown that these self-help groups (SHG) are crucial at mitigating fractures in the fresh fruit and vegetable value chains during the lockdown,”Mockshell said.
“The SHG system provides a ‘third force’ and model for rethinking and re-engineering current development models by leveraging existing institutions and grassroots networks to build resilience in food systems,” he added.
The number of people in or at risk of acute food insecurity surged from 135 million in 53 countries before the Covid-19 pandemic to 345 million in 79 countries in 2023, according to World Food Programme Statistics.
The researchers explained that there are over a billion members of rotating credit and saving associations, especially in Africa and South Asia.
Given how widespread these groups are, the researchers believe that this model has global applications: harnessing these pre-existing organisations to rebuild fractured supply chains can provide a model for other governments to replicate in times of crisis, such as extreme climate events and conflicts, when both rural and urban supply chains are disrupted.
“This solution is not specific to Covid-19 or India, because with climate change, disasters and conflicts are becoming increasingly common,” said Thea Ritter, an agricultural economist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.
“If there was a natural disaster in future, the government could tap into and leverage these groups,” Ritter said.