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The NNEdPro India Regional Network and Mobile Teaching Kitchens in Action over Jan/Feb 2020

By Lyn Haynes, Jorgen Johnsen, Luke Buckner and Sumantra Ray

With acknowledgements to Sanchita Banerjee, Debashis Chakraborty and collaborators in Kolkata, Sanghol, Bhubaneshwar, Hyderabad and Delhi

Over a week straddling late January and the beginning of February 2020, NNEdPro viewed its Mobile Teaching Kitchen (MTK) microenterprise in full action in Kolkata as well as finalising the ‘see one, teach one, do one intervention in Sanghol, Punjab. In addition, MTK adaptation exercises were undertaken in Hyderabad in Telangana with the International Crop Research Institute for The Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Bhubaneshwar in Odisha with the Nabakrishna Centre for Development Studies (NCDS) working closely with the Odisha Millets Mission (OMM). Meetings and discussions also took place with Vertiver and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi to plan for near future interventions based on our learning in India to date. This blog focuses on MTK activity in both Kolkata and Sanghol. The visit included NNEdPro Virtual Core Members: Professor Sumantra Ray, Dr Luke Buckner and Jørgen Torgerstuen Johnsen, as well as the first visit for Dr Lyn Haynes. The MTKs are also a key component of the University of Cambridge-led Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supported Programme: Transforming India’s Green Revolution-II with Empowerment, Research and Sustainable Food Supplies (TIGR2ESS).

Highlights from Kolkata

The first days of our trip started in Kolkata, the City of Joy, and on our very first day we had a press conference discussing the Mobile Teaching Kitchen, this was a success in sharing the new developments with local media making it into some of the local papers and news channels.

On the second day, we met up with the Kolkata team and assembled for a field visit to see the MTK microenterprise in action. We attended a selling session close to the IT district where many works in tech.

After a successful selling session, we had a debrief of our observations before heading off to our workshop. The workshop focused on the next steps in our microenterprise phase which included the outfit of the van, stand, data gathering and analysing, marketing, and further strategies on how to make the model sustainable and adaptable. To further help them think of strategies, the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025 and the Decade of Family Farming 2019-2028 were presented in addition to the recent proposed 10 double-duty actions to tackle the double burden of malnutrition. The delegates were divided into groups by key topics and synthesised ideas. The MTK champions participated across all discussion groups.

The next day Shumone and Jørgen travelled to Bhubaneshwar, along with representatives from the Inner Wheel Club of Greater Calcutta and the Remedy Clinic Study Group, for a workshop with the Odisha Millet Mission (OMM). Here the Kolkata team demonstrated a cooking session of one of our MTK templates which uses millets. We shared knowledge, experience and ideas with the existing OMM microenterprise efforts supporting women including those from marginalised communities.

Highlights from Sanghol, Punjab

The team continued to Sanghol, where we proudly co-operate with the team at the Lord Rana Edu City, founded and funded by the Lord Rana Foundation Charitable Trust, UK, and the Cordia Colleges where the rural adaptation of the MTK initiative has been taking place over a 12 month period. Here we were presented with the data and progress of the rural MTK project and were impressed with how far efforts have been reached and how much data has already been collected and is ready for analysis.

The next day we had a field visit to the cluster of villages where the mothers who are a part of the MTK initiative live. After showing us around, seeing their kitchen gardens and talking to other villagers we conducted a focus group with the mothers to see and hear what they had to say about the initiative. Thus, we could pinpoint logical issues that may arise when we scale up the work and move from stationary learning to an operative mobile unit. The field visit ended with a trip to a local sugarcane factory where we were invited to watch the process of refining the sugar from the sugarcane. These factories are run by families and are makeshift in nature.

Dr Lyn Haynes’ notes on the Mobile Teaching Kitchen initiative.

In Kolkata two of over 3,500 slums were selected for participation in the NNEdPro Mobile Teaching Kitchen project. The central goal was to educate mothers in each slum about nutrition and healthy eating, originally involving 12 mothers. After training to prepare and serve several different, carefully designed (by dietitians) menu templates, the remaining eight trained mothers, or MTK Champions, have now entered the microenterprise phase of the project. The NNEdPro mobile kitchen is taken to a site close to many office blocks. Here the team of the day will prepare, serve and sell plates of the Menu of the Day. There are ten templates in total: the champions continue to be taught new menus by volunteers from Kolkata Inner Wheel Circle, and oversight by Sanchita and Debashis.

One slum is registered; the difference in confidence between the men and women in that and the unregistered slum is tangible. The reality of the latter is that their proudly constructed [temporary] home could be bulldozed any day. Imagine living with such tension. Not surprising that reported substance abuse is high. In the focus group, the women shared their dream to educate their children. Luke shared his observation that the women looked and held themselves differently now, more positive and confident. They admitted to feeling empowered since engaging in the project.

Urban Slum life differs remarkably from the rural setting in the Punjab village of Sanghol. The two dimensions of the project here pertain to 10 mothers who work at Cordia College (hailing from a cluster of surrounding villages) and 10 homemakers from the adjacent village, Polomaja. All these women are more confident: could it be because they have homes, security of tenure and are supported by their husbands and/or families in the project? Although these mothers have only been involved in the project since August 2019 and have only been taught two menus. It is anticipated that the Mobile Kitchen will be launched after August 2020. The rural mothers were ahead of the urban mothers in sharing their knowledge about healthy eating with families and friends although they have only learned a few of the templates.

TIGR2ESS Co-Investigator Prof Ramanjit Johal in discussion with rural mothers at the Teach One day.

Cordia College student volunteers with the working Cordia mothers at Teach One day.

Even the plate of food differs in looks from that sold in Kolkata, but offers just the same nutritional value and tastes equally good!

As the Kolkata project provides evidence of moving forward effectively, it is now time to introduce new value-added adjuncts. One line of thinking is to involve the men folk to make solar cookers to reduce reliance on expensive bottled gas, and hopefully, also limit fire-accident risks. While the idea was taken on board in RG Kar slum in Kolkata, there is a limitation on where one could put a solar cooker as there are many large trees casting shadows. However, in Chetla the area along the railway lines would work best of the possible sites inspected. In Punjab, where there is ample space to position a solar cooker, the members of the project were less enthralled by the concept. Gas cookers are not anywhere near as much a fire hazard as in the Kolkata sites. In Punjabi homes, five of the seven Cordia mothers-in-training informed us in the focus group that they also used Chula (cow manure and straw pats) for slow cooking recipes.

The idea of the Kitchen Garden (KG) project was well received in Punjab, where such horticulture is already in action in their homes. KG for supplying the Mobile Kitchen might best suit the Cordia mothers who will not be able to go out in the Mobile Kitchen. There is plenty of space for a garden to be operated on the grounds of Cordia College and they could earn their MTK income through tending the garden and supplying the menu ingredients, while the village mothers undertake the client-facing component of MTK. In Kolkata the KG idea raised several issues: children, rats and other people might interfere with and/or destroy the mini gardens that would necessarily need to be grown in pots/tubs. A few spots above the school building in Chetla might provide safe (except for rats) sites. In RG Kar no obvious places for the tub gardens were obvious.

The Mobile Teaching Kitchen is an interesting and innovative initiative and experiment. The most effective evidence as to the impact of engagement, by the 28 women in the two areas, has been being with and talking to the women: the narrative is much stronger than raw data, this is, after all, a human-facing project.

Unfortunately, shortly after our visit, they amongst many other vulnerable people in India and indeed the world face the pandemic consequences of COVID-19. Whilst many globally complain of the social isolation, loss of employment and risk to health this disease is causing through measures to slow its spread, the champions in Kolkata face this perhaps more acutely.

Due to the cramped conditions of their living situation, minimal access to healthcare and lack of savings the impact could be dramatic. To date the feedback is that they are following government guidance well, we have no reports of ill health, and through NNEdPro’s crowdfunding campaign we have managed to provide some finance to compensate for what they have been making previously during MTK selling sessions. But this has only been one month’s salary and now they need your help once again. The champions and their families are not worried about not seeing friends, going to the cinema or being stuck at home, they face a real-life struggle for both themselves and their families to provide food, water and a roof over their head. If you are able to, please donate on the link below, even small amounts can go a long way to supporting them and their families.

MTK Crowdfunding Campaign – aiding our urban slum champions in the wake of COVID-19

An Overview of the MTK model

An Overview of our India network

An Overview of our work with TIGR2ESS

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