Meet Shashanka Ala, an electrical engineer from IIT Madras, who ditched engineering to join The India Administrative Service. After her first posting in Delhi, she was transferred to Aizawl, capital of Mizoram, as Director of Food and Civil Supplies. Soon after, she was posted as Deputy Commission/District Collector of Lawngtlai, one of the most backward districts of Mizoram that also shares a border with Bangladesh.
It was during her tenure as DC of Lawngtlai, that she launched Project Nutrition Garden. The project was a roaring success and it earned her the Chief Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration 2020 in the Individual Category.
The project- Kan Sikul, Kan Huan, which in local parlance means, Our School, Our Garden was taken up in 2019 under Poshan Abhiyan, to address the dietary and nutritional needs of children. The district has a ubiquitous history of flooding and landslides every monsoon which leads to road blockage thereby thwarting transportation of perishable goods. This makes fruits and vegetables rare and expensive in the villages of Lawngtlai.
During routine inspection of the schools and Anganwadis, Shashanka Ala observed that the children were malnourished. Soon she found that Lawngtlai has the highest rate of malnourished and stunted children in Mizoram. The data is alarming with 35.3% stunted children, 21.3% underweight children, and 5.9% severely wasted children, all under the age of 5.
Shashanka also surmised that bad transportation which makes vegetables rare and expensive, stops anganwadis and schools from providing balanced diets to the children. Determined to bring in a change she motivated the local communities to come together for their own wellbeing and better health. Eventually, Shashanka Ala and a group of civil society members came up with – Kan Sikul, Kan Huan.
As a part of the project a suitable land of at least 100sq was identified in every school and Anganwadi by the education department, where children started growing their own fruits and vegetables, reducing the market dependence. The teachers were also trained to make their own compost.
Shashanka said, “The aim is to make schools, Anganwadis and all other institutions in Lawngtlai district self-sufficient in fruit and vegetable production by 2020.”
The first phase of the program covers 213 schools and Anganwadis, where fruits and vegetables are now being cultivated by the students. The headmaster of each school ensures that each batch of students gets to contribute to the garden.
The project attained immense success and soon many schools started to grow their own gardens. Shashanka stated that 400 Anganwadis and educational institutions were included by September 2019 in the second phase of Project Nutrition Garden. Funds from different sources were pulled in to provide for the seeds. Parents and townspeople provided the gardening equipment.
The third phase of the project involves livestock and poultry farming that would address the protein requirements of children. “As most children do not have access to protein sources, having a chicken shed would provide them eggs and take care of their protein requirements.” Shashanka shared and added, “Why just Mizoram? I think the whole country should take up an initiative like this.”
Project Nutrition Garden is a first of its kind initiative in the country. The Vice-President of India has already appreciated the initiative in one of the sessions of Rajya Sabha, and has asked ministers to scale up initiative across the country. The best part of the initiative is that it is not capital intensive. The only requirement is the seeds of fruits and vegetables.
“It is very heartening to see the success of the project and I am thankful to the state government for appreciating and acknowledging the efforts. I am also extremely thankful for the opportunity to execute the project and would like to thank my team members for their help in making the project a big success. Project Nutrition Garden brings to light how bureaucrats can work and deliver to create an ecosystem conducive to development. Each one of us is important in contributing towards the country’s economy and must do our job diligently,” signed off the feisty officer.