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SFurtI 1st anniversary –  A positive take on nutrition

The Sustainable Flour Fortification Initiative – branded as “SFurtI”– focuses on providing reasonable and convenient solutions to micronutrient deficiencies for tribal communities of Gujarat. Launched one year ago, SFurtI uses market-based approaches to distribute sachets of micronutrient powder which can satisfy the micronutrient needs of households and address hidden hunger in these communities.  

A previous blog describes some of the early lessons learned from Phase 1 of the project. Now, for the Initiative’s first anniversary, the SFurtI Project Coordinator, Mr. Kasim Nazir Saiyyad, and Ms. Karuna P Salve, Project Officer, offer their reflections on how SFurtI has evolved and what impact it has had so far.

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Mixing and cooking demonstrations were organized to provide a better understanding of the SFurtI powder use.

The start

When it comes to nutrition in tribal India, our tribal counterparts hardly bother about it. Their definition of health is ‘merely absence of disease!

Within this environment, the Tata-Cornell Institute (TCI) started a health and nutrition intervention along with expert partners like BAIF Institute for Sustainable Livelihoods and Development (BISLD), Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (MSU), Vadodara and Sight & Life (S&L). Called SFurtI, the Sustainable Flour Fortification Initiative has operated in 15 villages of Songadh block of Tapi district of Gujarat state in India since June 17, 2016.

The idea was to provide a reasonable solution to the communities to combat micronutrient deficiencies using a micronutrient supplementary sachet. The SFurtI sachet has four essential micronutrients: iron, folic acid, vitamin A and vitamin B12. One sachet of SFurtI needs to be mixed with 5 Kg of flour. What is special about SFurtI is that it can be mixed with any kind of flour, and it does not alter the taste and color of the food. Regular consumption of SFurtI leads to adequate supply of micronutrients to the body, thus resulting in a reduction in weakness, limb pain, dizziness, lethargy, and eye problems associated with micronutrient deficiencies.

Though it was a seemingly clear and straightforward message, it has not been easy to convey the same to the beneficiaries of the program.

Fortunately, early on in this work, we decided to always endeavour to ensure maximum community participation, believing it would yield better outcomes. Working on the latent need of communities with the help of communities was an innovative idea. Because of this, beneficiaries of the program have become the owners of it. In fact, community members came up with the name for the program – SFurtI, which means health, energy in Gujarati.

It was also decided that the program would be implemented by a Women’s’ Federation of Self-Help Groups (SHGs), called Shri Surbhi Swasahay Federation (a federation monitored and supported by BISLD.) Initially, a number of meetings with these women SHG members were conducted in each village to inform them about the program and to get to know their take on it. They decided they would like to work with us to market, sell and distribute the SFurtI sachets. But first, these women facilitated discussions in the villages to determine the price at which SFurtI could be affordable for the “base of the pyramid” consumers. Consensus was reached at 3 INR per sachet.

Also critical, women distributors of SFurtI were recruited in each village. They have been named as “SFurtI bens”. (Ben means sister in Gujarati.) Multiple trainings were provided to the SFurtI bens to ensure expected outcomes.

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SFurtI team: Sfurti bens with Project Coordinator Kasim Nazir Saiyyad and Project Officer Karuna P Salve

The road had a few barriers to cross

The next stage was to convince villagers to not only buy, but also consume the SFurtI powder. For example, SFurtI bens used to go to each household to distribute SFurtI sachets. Most of the households did accept it. There were few households which were not ready to use it. Our team visited these households to know the reasons for not using SFurtI. The most common reason for non-consumption was denial by some of the family members (most of whom were male). We conducted separate meetings with these male members and informed them about the benefits of SFurtI. Later, most of them started consuming it.

It was also observed that some of the households discontinued the use of SFurtI after a few months, even though they were more informed about the consequences of micronutrient deficiencies. After following up with these households, we came to understand that the process of mixing SFurtI was perceived as too complex to continue. We addressed this issue by coming up with a simpler method for mixing SFurtI into flour. Most of the people found the new method easier and resumed consumption.

Finally, some of the villages have distant hamlets, making it difficult for SFurtI bens to reach these hamlets regularly. There are other stakeholders who had previously visited households to spread the word about SFurtI (such as the aganwadi worker), so we started a Buy-Eat-Repeat campaign with their support. This increased the frequency of messaging and degree of awareness, thus contributing to regular consumption of SFurtI even in the hamlets.

It was all about communication

To make more impact, we created different types of awareness materials to display at public places. These materials were developed in local languages based on the input from villagers.

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SFurtI posters were displayed throughout the villages, including mixing instructions in the local language. (Photo credit: K. Saiyyad)

We also identified and trained influential village level agencies like the anganwadi centers, dairy cooperatives, churches, schools, gram panchayat, primary health centres, etc. These agencies were quite helpful in spreading a word about SFurtI.

Demonstrations of proper mixing were also organized at the village and hamlet level. This helped to clear any doubts among villagers about whether adding the micronutrient powder would change the color and taste of their flour.

Finally, our team participated in many festivals like Christmas, Ganesh Chaturthi and Navratri, where we built trust and rapport with the community and had another opportunity to talk about SFurtI.

From struggle to success

Within a few months of launch, SFurtI covered more than 50% of households. A felicitation / awareness event was organized in October 2016 under the chairmanship of the Honorable Collector of Tapi District (whose public support of the project has been incredibly valuable), along with representation from district health and education departments, partner organizations, and village-level stakeholders. Almost 900 women SHG members and consumers of SFurtI from project villages attended the event. The event served to inform the government and other officials on the status of work and progress made so far as well as to encourage the women from the villages, who are the most important stakeholders in the program.

Since then, the support, awareness, demand and consumption of SFurtI has grown. Constant efforts have been made by the team to pursue each household. As a result, SFurtI has successfully reached about 70% of households within a span of one year, giving us a reason to celebrate.

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We are SFurtI consumers! (Photo credit: K. Saiyyad)

Did we succeed in changing anything?

Put simply – yes! The Sustainable Flour Fortification Initiative is a story of how maximum community participation and a bunch of empowered women can change society positively.

As a result, the nutrition situation is slowly changing for our tribal counterparts. Now, more of them know about having a balanced diet and its benefits.

Also positive, SFurtI helped the Women’s Federation of SHGs to strengthen its presence in villages. They have increased their corpus fund by implementing SFurtI (selling the sachets) and are moving towards sustainability of the program.

Finally, most of our SFurtI bens who were hesitant to speak up initially are now crowd pullers. Some of them were even elected in local village elections. They admit that it wouldn’t be possible without the SFurtI program. According to them, SFurtI gave them wings to fly for themselves and for their communities. For them, SFurtI is not a program; it is the way towards better health, better life!

Acknowledgements:

We would like to thank to Ms Nita Vasava and Mrs Sunanda Vasava, Cluster Coordinators, SFurtI from BISLD for their sincere efforts to make the program successful.

We would also like to thank the coordination committee members of SFurtI – Mr D K Patel, Dr Arvind Kulkarni and Dr Bhaskar Mittra for mentoring the field team to get desired results.

By Kasim Nazir Saiyyad and Karuna P Salve

Kasim Nazir Saiyyad is a Project Coordinator of Sustainable Flour Fortification Initiative (SFurtI) which is being implemented by TCI in Gujarat state of India. Karuna P Salve works as a Project Officer under SFurtI.

SFurtI focuses on providing reasonable and convenient solutions for micronutrient deficiencies to tribal communities of Gujarat.