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Field visit to study market diversity in Eastern Uttar Pradesh

On the 4th of July, I traveled to the Maharajganj
District of Eastern Uttar Pradesh with three other TCI colleagues to study
market diversity in the Pharenda Block. Our objective was to observe the
variety of foods available in four markets and then convert this information
into quantitative data that can be used for analysis to better understand the
level of market diversity in the region.

The motive and methodology of this study are interesting and simple, a rare combination that merits a detailed account…

Linking market diversity to diet diversity, and why both are important

Over the past several decades, the Green Revolution brought
about significant technological advancements that increased staple grain
productivity as well as the overall food supply in India. While significant
progress has been made toward hunger reduction, staple grains have progressively
crowded out other non-staple food crops such as pulses, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
Consequently, Indian diets have become increasingly centered on staple grains, mainly
wheat and rice, which provide adequate calories, but are lacking in essential nutrients.

Today, much of India’s population suffers from malnutrition
and micronutrient deficiencies, despite impressive economic growth for more
than a decade. According to UNICEF, half of the children under age five are
stunted due to chronic malnourishment. Inadequate nutrition can have lifelong
consequences, as it can weaken one’s learning ability, immune system, and
overall ability to perform productive activities.

The obvious solution to India’s malnutrition challenge is to
improve the nutritional intake of its population at large. This can be achieved
by promoting the consumption of a more diversified diet, which has a sufficient
quantity and variety of nutrients. Simply defined, a ‘diverse diet’ is one that
includes an adequate mix of the following food groups:

1. Grains, white roots, tubers, and plantains – source
of starch

2. Pulses – non-animal source of protein and rich
in vitamin B

3. Nuts and seeds – rich in unsaturated fatty
acids, proteins, fiber, and minerals

4. Dairy – source of high quality protein, calcium,
and vitamin B12

5. Meat, fish, and poultry – source of high quality
protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12

6. Eggs – source of high quality protein, iron,
zinc, and vitamin

7. Dark green leafy vegetables and fruits – rich in
vitamin A

8. Other fresh fruits and vegetables – source of
vitamin C, micronutrients, and fiber

Diet diversity can be approximated by the number of the
above listed food groups consumed over a given interval of time.

Diet diversity largely depends on food available either
through food crops produced by households for own consumption, or through food
items purchased by households at the market. Thus, markets play an important
role in ensuring a diverse diet. Much of the foods that people have access to and
options available to them can be understood through markets.

Market diversity is the extent to which different sources of
nutrients are available in a market. Similar to diet diversity, market
diversity can be approximated by the number of the above listed food groups
observed in the market at a given point in time.

Fieldwork: Challenges
and opportunities

The first step toward measuring market diversity is to
identify food markets for data collection. In this study, we focused on markets
that are accessible to sample villages where data on household food consumption
patterns is being collected by TCI under its Technical Assistance and Research
for Indian Nutrition and Agriculture (TARINA)
project. While many markets met this
criterion, we chose only four: Lehra, Bangla Chauraha, Sant Bazaar, and


Female beneficiary of TARINA selling vegetables at the Dhani
Market in Maharjganj, Uttar Pradesh (Photo credit: Nishtha Jain)

experienced many challenges when interacting with locals to collect data in these
locations. For example, while interviewing food vendors at the main food market
in Pharenda on the first day of our field visit, we found ourselves surrounded
by crowds that had formed to inquire about our presence. Even though we
explained our study and the purpose of our visit, we could not assuage the
excitement that our presence generated. We later realized that we were being
mistaken for representatives of the government tax department. Such concerns
made vendors reluctant and much more careful when responding to our questions. Fortunately,
our simple questionnaire helped reduce the risk of misreporting.


Food vendor at the Pharenda Market in Maharjganj, Uttar Pradesh (Photo credit: Nishtha Jain)

On the last day of our field visit, we faced similar
challenges when traveling to a nearby villages to observe TCI’s ongoing household
food consumption survey. During an interview with a male head of household who
was a construction contractor, the respondent’s unease and behavior made us
question whether he was accurately reporting land owned and crops cultivated.
Thus, issues of misperception and mistrust were a constraint to data collection
in both the market and village level contexts.

Despite these challenges, visiting different field locations
helped us gain a better understanding of commonly known problems. One such
example is women’s labor in agriculture and the need for labor-saving
technologies. Our field visit coincided with paddy cultivation, and women were
manually transplanting paddy saplings from nurseries to their fields. My
colleagues and I were all shocked by the speed and efficiency with which these
women were working. To try our hand, we jumped into the water-filled field to
assist. After ten minutes of bending over and planting, we realized that the
seemingly easy task was not so simple. When leaving, we found the same set of
women were still engaged in paddy cultivation, with their backs bent and their feet
in hot muddy water. It had been more than six hours, and we could not help but
to wonder how physically excruciating this task must be for them.


TCI interns transplanting rice along with local female
farmers in a village in Maharajganj, Uttar Pradesh (Photo credit: Dhiraj Kumar


A preliminary look at the
data collected revealed that there is no significant difference in the variation
of food items available across the four markets. All the markets had significant
variation in the types of vegetables available, but this was not the case for
fruits. Mango was widely available, whereas bananas, oranges, and apples could
only be spotted in the larger markets. In each market, animal meat was sold in
a separate corner that was secluded from the rest of the vendors. Fish and
chicken appeared to be the most popular choice of meat.

Based on these observations,
it seems diet diversity may be heavily influenced by the market availability of
food items that are highly seasonal like fruits. However, due to improvements
in transportation infrastructure and trade, markets have become much more diverse
and homogenous. This is evidenced by the availability of highly perishable
foods such as fish in all the small and large markets. Fish is brought daily from
Gorakhpur City to the Pharenda Market, 
where it is then distributed throughout the Maharajganj District. Without
public provision of storage, the onus of selling fresh produce in a day or two,
before it spoils, lies solely on the sellers. Lack of storage facilities affects
meat sellers the most, as one needs cold storage to preserve its quality and to
keep it from spoiling.

In conclusion, these four days of fieldwork helped contextualize
different lifestyles, occupations, cultures, and societies. It was an
eye-opening experience for me, as I learned a great deal about people’s eating
habits simply by observing where they go to buy food. Even the gender composition
of markets reflected gender roles in different societies. Markets are not only
about the goods that are being bought and sold, but they are also about the
demographics of who is buying and who is selling, which are additional topics I
would like to explore in the future.

By Nishtha Jain

Nishtha Jain is a student
at the Delhi School of Economics and served as a summer intern at TCI’s TARINA
Center of Excellence, based in New Delhi, India.