Throughout India and throughout the world, households and individuals face challenges to accessing the food they need and sharing it amongst all members of the household in an environment that allows them to efficiently metabolize and absorb nutrients. Household food access rests on the ability for a family unit to consume the quantity, quality, and diversity of food needed to achieve daily micronutrient, energy, and protein needs.
TCI research focuses on four interlocking areas for analyzing nutritional outcomes in Indian rural areas and evaluating the pathways that could catalyze positive dietary change – especially for women and children.
First, consider the income pathway and food access pathway. Household food access is premised on the ability to afford an array of nutrient-dense and freely available foods. Food affordability requires the expansion of household budgets to allow rural farmers to purchase the quantity, quality, and diversity of food needed. Household incomes are determined by the productivity of smallholder farmer operations, the opportunities available for non-farm income and other employment, and the seasonality of farm income and off-farm employment; all of which may wax and wane annually. In this area, TCI looks at research around agriculture-led growth strategies, including labor dynamics, new market opportunities and other economic and farm productivity aspects that can provide enhanced income and food supply thereby leading to positive nutritional impact at the household and individual level.
Gains in income and food affordability must be matched by food diversity that is nutrient rich. As a result, TCI prioritizes research looking at the availability of micronutrients in rural areas. Household access to diverse food year-round is determined by a number of factors, including the spatial location of the household and their proximity to diverse food retailers, the quality of rural markets, the seasonality of nutrient-dense food, the availability of food storage infrastructure and transportation (among other dynamics). TCI promotes research around access to micronutrients and food diversity through agricultural diversification including through the promotion of homestead gardens and backyard livestock systems, the distribution of micronutrient foods spatially and temporally in a given region, and effectiveness of the government’s food-based safety-net interventions.
Third, TCI focuses on the positive nutrition-behavior pathway. In particular, we are interested in the equitable allocation of food to all individuals within the household, especially to women and children.. Distribution within a household may favor men and older boys, allowing them to eat first and select the amount and quality they desire. Women (and young children) are often left with the food that remains, suffering complications like anemia and other micronutrient deficiencies at higher rates. TCI advances research looking at positive behavior changes within the household, the impact of women’s self-help groups on female empowerment and behavior change, and further evaluates how household characteristics might influence the distribution of nutrients within the home.
Fourth, TCI research considers a health-environment pathway, which includes access to safe food, clean drinking water, and sanitation facilities that are central to full nutrient absorption and complete biological utilization. Drinking water supply and sanitation in India continues to be inadequate, and intestinal inflammation and infection due to water contaminated with worms, parasites, viruses and bacteria leads to partial or complete mal-absorption of essential nutrients, in addition to life-threatening dehydration. TCI works to advance research and development of village-level purification plants, sanitation measures including the construction of toilets and encouraging behavior change, and other food safety processes.
A fifth area of research looks at how we can better utilize and synthesize the collection of agriculture, health and nutrition data. In India, multi-sectoral household surveys that include agriculture, health, and nutrition information are rare. TCI is looking to strengthen and support existing data collection attempts and pilot new ways of integrating these multi-faceted areas of human behavior into a single survey to be used in a variety of regions and contexts.