RAHI – Feeding the Hungry and Sustaining Communities 

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Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief organisation, aims to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to end hunger by 2030. It was created as an independent entity in India in 2014, formally registered as ‘Stop Hunger Now India’ but later changed to Rise Against Hunger India, in 2017. Headquartered in Bangalore, RAHI programme began in 2015 due to increased interest and support by corporate partners to involve in meal packaging. RAHI commits itself to nourishing lives, providing emergency aid, empowering communities by helping them eradicating hunger on a long-term basis through sustainable livelihood programmes, education and medical care as supplementary activities. From floods to droughts, RAHI has been actively responding to emergencies. The team actively works towards bolstering agricultural production and income through various agricultural methods, business skills and market access. CSR Mandate spoke with Dola Mohapatra, Executive Director, Rise Against Hunger India about their tireless, inspiring and humanitarian effort to feed and nourish India’s hungry.

RAHI meals, packaged by volunteers, are designed to provide a comprehensive array of micronutrients. A typical meal includes enriched rice, pulses, dried vegetables and 21 essential vitamins and nutrients. Over 13 million micronutrient-rich meals have been provided under the Nourishing Lives programme.

In how many States and districts have RAHI taken this programme and what has been the result so far?

RAHI supports safety net programmes that provide nourishment, as well as additional skills training or services that support the difficult journey out of poverty. RAHI meals are provided in schools to encourage increased enrollment and attendance. For adults in community empowerment programmes, the provision of meals offsets productive time lost while attending training sessions. Meals distributed in hospitals and clinics may support patients’ nutritional needs and complement their treatments.

RAHI meals, packaged by volunteers, are designed to provide a comprehensive array of micronutrients. A typical meal includes enriched rice, pulses, dried vegetables and 21 essential vitamins and nutrients. Over 13 million micronutrient-rich meals have been provided under the Nourishing Lives programme. Food by itself cannot work without access to water, proper hygiene or healthcare provisions. So, RAHI has implemented projects that focus on these aspects. Some of these projects include the provision of drinking water (Odisha/Maharashtra), healthcare for rural families (mobile medical vans in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, nutrition supplements (Odisha), etc.

In the past, RAHI programmes have been carried out in Ri Bhoi district of Meghalaya to create value chains for pineapple and banana farmers. Share with us the experience of working with these farmers, and how self-sufficient are they now when compared to their state of affairs earlier?

Climate change has made weather patterns unpredictable, which affects planting and harvesting seasons, as well as the lack of access to markets where they can get a fair price for their produce. RAHI aims to increase agricultural production and household incomes through programmes aimed at improving agricultural methods, business skills and market access. Our community empowerment programmes also help smallholder farmers build resilience to the shocks and stresses of climate change by promoting ecological approaches to agriculture as well as diversification.

We focus highly on socio-economic microenvironments for designing interventions. Unlike organisations who focus highly on replication of solutions and a one-size-fits-all approach, we analyse every geography and distressed groups in isolation and designs solutions that match the specific needs of the project area

  • In Umsylliang and Umshalani village of Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya, 50 pineapple farmers and 27 banana farmers were provided technical support and market access. Post three months of sapling plantation, a 92 per cent successful growth rate has been observed, with saplings grown up to 3ft height.
  • In Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, 200 goat farmers from Bhil tribes are being supported for improving the breed of goats, create kid nursery, preparation of homemade medicine, and enhance knowledge of goat-farm economics.
  • In Bargarh district of Odisha, 600 small and marginal farmers have been provided support for the creation of Custom Hiring Centres, Seed Bank and Tool Bank to help them get access to shared farm inputs and machinery at a nominal cost that they otherwise could not afford as individuals.
  • We also support them to create value-added products such as millet-flour and millet-biscuits that shall return a higher profit to the farmers. The income of millet farmers in Bargarh is expected to grow by 100 per cent. Successful projects on promoting commercial vegetable production have also been implemented in Balangir District, Odisha. 

Each district and State has a typical climate, soil and environment condition around which crop selection or animal husbandry is done. Does it take your intervention or the farmers come up with their suggestions?

We focus highly on socio-economic microenvironments for designing interventions. Unlike organisations who focus highly on replication of solutions and a one-size-fits-all approach, we analyse every geography and distressed groups in isolation and designs solutions that match the specific needs of the project area. This is evident in the choice of goat farming with Bhil tribes in Madhya Pradesh, horticulture in Meghalaya, millets value chain in Odisha. The Bhil Tribes of Madhya Pradesh have had exposure to goatery for centuries. The available land provides huge grazing areas around forests and hills that provide ample food for goats. So, goatery was the most suitable project for the area. In Bargarh, Odisha, the major problem was of drought and reducing water tables. Millets, which consume less water, was chosen as an intervention to replace the more water-consuming paddy. The farmers of Odisha are aware of millets, having grown them before, and so a steep learning curve would not be required.

The opinion and choice of farmers are taken into account while deciding on the choice of intervention to be carried out. Technical experts such as scientists from the Krishi Vigyan Kendra are also consulted to arrive at optimum designs of programmes.

How do you collaborate with corporates for assistance in creating the complete value chain from production until marketing?

RAHI works with 206 partner organisations to implement its objectives of nourishing lives, community empowerment and emergency response. We also partner with organisations with technical expertise such as The Goat Trust for a project on goat farmers in Madhya Pradesh, SACH and KVK Guwahati for a project on pineapple and banana farmers in Meghalaya. For COVID-19 response, we have partnered with 80 organisations to provide food relief to the distressed.

Does RAHI also offer packaged food to alleviate hunger to farmers or their families or their children in school?

Our disaster response strategy includes immediate relief as well as long term livelihood rehabilitation support to the affected families. In the immediate aftermath of any natural disaster, we organise meals and other essential supplies (family survival kits, hygiene kits etc). During disasters, RAHI Meals have always been in high demand.

In the floods of 2018 that caused massive devastation in Kerala, we mobilised 431,422 meals, installed an RO plant for drinking water for 6,000 families, organised medical relief camps, provided fishing nets, boats, etc. Similarly, during the floods in Tamil Nadu (2015-16), we provided meals (dry-ration and cooked meals), medicines and family support kits to over 60,000 people. In Western Odisha, for three consecutive years, our drought relief projects have helped over 100,000 people. During COVID-19, we served 25,20,760 meals to 504,718 beneficiaries, mostly migrant workers in 38 districts of nine States.  

What are the other livelihood programmes that have been incorporated by RAHI to make farmers and the communities self-sufficient in terms of hunger eradication, education and completely self-reliant? 

  1. Project Jal Seva in 2018. Emergency response to drought in Western Districts of Odisha (2017-18 to 2018-19): Districts of western Odisha – Bargarh and Bolangir – had been facing annual droughts every year since 2015. Water scarcity was severe for humans as well as livestock. Adding to the problem was the high level of fluorine in the areas that led to severe fluoride contamination in water leading to diseases such as fluorosis.

Jal Seva was a 3-tier approach to addressing the problem:

  • Water Hygiene Education reached to every section of the operational communities water hygiene aspects was shared from personal care to village water and sanitation (WatSan) approach.
  • Participatory Water Solutions values the water needs of human and livestock, provided drinking water and hygiene care assistance from heat.
  • The third approach is The Safe Water Campaign which focused solutions for drinking water safety measures for resource-poor vulnerable households.
  1. Project Mobile Health Unit. Response to lack of adequate health facilities in Banka, Bihar and Prakasam, Andhra Pradesh (2015-16 to 2018-19): The project was launched in October 2016 for beneficiaries. A majority of them have been suffering from diabetes, hypertension and joint pain which involved huge costs and is a major cause of financial stress for their families. They were falling into debt traps because of rising health costs and cost of travel to towns or cities to access healthcare. They were spending INR 4,000-5000 on blood and other tests and medicines monthly. The MHU provided a way out by providing doorstep healthcare and free-of-cost medicines. Each MHU has a qualified team consisting of a doctor, a lab technician and a pharmacist. MHUs are providing treatment to more than 23,000 chronic patients who have been provided with a health card. MHUs also reach out to more than 100,000 people suffering from seasonal and minor ailments. Not only have the MHUs been successful in providing doorstep healthcare, but also have helped to free these families from the clutches of money lenders who were taking advantage of the helpless situation of these people in distress. The MHUs catered to 60-70 patients every day and helped improve the monthly savings of each family by INR 4000.

48-year-old Venkat Rao from Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh, has been bedridden since he suffered a brain stroke while working at a construction site. His right side was completely paralysed. Rao was treated in a hospital but still needed routine check-ups, which was a huge challenge as the hospital was 16 km away. MHU team visited his house once a week to check on him, including his BP, joint pain due to immobility, and bedsores. This has made it easier to update the hospital about his condition.  

“I am thankful to the MHU team for visiting my house purely out of compassion. They do my routine health check-up. It helps me to remain informed about my condition. They also provide me with a gel for my joint pain and other minor complication,” says a grateful Venkat.

  1. Project Supplementary Nutrition to children of Nilachal Seva Pratisthan (NSP) in Puri, Odisha (2015-16 to 2016-17): The objective of the project was to provide supplementary nutrition to the inmates of NSP – physically and visually challenged children, trafficked victims, abandoned children, senior citizens who without any support. NSP was hard-pressed for resources to provide even two meals a day for their inmates. Even on days where three meals a day were available, the inmates would go hungry for 7-8 hours between meals. With support from Kraft Heinz, we arranged for the provision of milk mixed with nutrition supplement (Complan) drinks to nearly 600 inmates of NSP. The introduction of Complan filled the gap between meals and also boosted the level of energy, attentiveness and alertness among the children and adults. Often on days where breakfast was not available, Complan in the morning helped from going to empty stomach from previous night’s dinner to next day’s lunch. This Project has helped to increase energy levels and focus on studies and homework as evident in the results of the school tests. The mentally-challenged children are more responsive, attentive and less aggressive. Bouts of diarrhoea have reduced to less than ten per cent from previous levels of 30 to 40 per cent. Attendance in classes has gone up due to reduced sickness.  

These are some of the results seen upfront due to these efforts, and we are sure to achieve our goal to see India rise above poverty and hunger, soon.

As many migrant workers have moved back to their villages from the towns and cities, rural livelihood system is struggling to cope with the additional pressure. We have already started working with rural communities to strengthen their livelihood support systems by providing agricultural inputs, tools, technology, etc. These efforts will continue for the near terms. In the longer-term horizon, we will develop our programme plan in select geographies (hunger hot-spots) based on a detailed mapping of the livelihood security systems in the areas. We aim to have a seven-to-ten-year roadmap for these areas

What is the way forward for all the projects?

Like all other organisations, our plans have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a huge demand among our partners for the continued supply of micro-nutrient rich meals. We will continue to organise meals and other provisions for as many vulnerable groups as possible.

As many migrant workers have moved back to their villages from the towns and cities, rural livelihood system is struggling to cope with the additional pressure. We have already started working with rural communities to strengthen their livelihood support systems by providing agricultural inputs, tools, technology, etc. These efforts will continue for the near terms. In the longer-term horizon, we will develop our programme plan in select geographies (hunger hot-spots) based on a detailed mapping of the livelihood security systems in the areas. We aim to have a seven-to-ten-year roadmap for these areas.

Moving forward, we will adopt the following strategies, approaches and initiatives:

Nourishing Lives

While serving the immediate needs of those in distress, we are working with select partners to develop broad-based programmes that will focus on skill-development, income augmentation or building social safety-net systems (these are designated as Meal-Plus programmes, meaning a partner will receive meals, and side by side, other projects will be undertaken). Secondly, we also plan to work with partners to ensure communities have access to safe drinking water or proper healthcare.

Empowering Communities 

  1. Scaling up of community-based, livelihood-based initiatives like the goat-farming and livestock development projects that are already underway.
  2. Implementation of climate-adaptive agriculture/farming practices applying agroecological approaches.
  3. Building resilience in the local communities with the introduction of appropriate low-cost technology and improving value chains.
  4. Strengthening farmer producers’ organisations and building linkages with government systems.

 Growing the Movement

  1. Engaging volunteers more actively in hunger-themed initiatives and discourses
  2. Promote Hunger Education among school children to sensitise to healthy eating, preventing food waste, respecting farmers and food producers, etc.
  3. Build a network of Friends of RAHI across the country to promote voluntary action (e.g. identifying those who are hungry and mobilising food for them).