Not much is known about the nutritional and health status of tribal communities in India’s remote regions but a new study by Vani Sethi and others from Unicef sheds some light. In a study published in the Economic and Political Weekly, the authors find that tribal women have worse health and nutritional outcomes than the general population, and this is because of the limited reach of critical welfare schemes such as the public distribution system (PDS) and the integrated child development scheme (ICDS).

The study is based on primary research in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, which have a sizeable tribal population, and also draws on secondary data from the National Family and Health Survey conducted in 2015-16. The study identifies systemic barriers in schemes that prevent tribal women from receiving benefits. For instance, in the public distribution system (PDS), the authors find there is a lack of proper storage facilities for foodgrain in tribal areas.

The authors also report that in Odisha, nearly half of the tribal villages covered in this study did not have a PDS shop. Further, schemes meant for adolescent girls as well as pregnant mothers, such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana, had a low uptake due to limited agency for tribal women to take decisions regarding their health.

However, the study does highlight some successful interventions in the form of targeted tribal schemes and creation of nutritional clusters in Odisha that promote dietary diversity and hygiene among pregnant mothers. Distribution of iodized salt among tribal population has also improved nutritional outcomes. The authors argue that these successful schemes need to be scaled up and replicated. Finally, they call for strengthening tribal development nodal agencies and providing better incentives to fieldworkers. They argue that this can lead to better implementation of welfare schemes.

Also read: Delivering Essential Nutrition: Interventions for Women in Tribal Pockets of Eastern India