By Sarada Lahangir
Padampur, Koraput, Orissa: Dana Ambapadia was a salt trader. She and her fellow Self Help Group members traded iodized salt deep in the villages of the remote tribal district of Koraput.
Dana was happy when after a rough day, she would come home to her 6 month old baby and play with her. It was not always like this though. She had lost two pregnancies in the womb and also her hopes of ever having a child. So during her third pregnancy she decided not to take any chances and went for a regular check up at the local health centre. During the consultations she learnt that apart from regular anti-natal check-ups and care, consumption of the right salt too affected a pregnancy. Then she became a faithful consumer of iodized salt although it cost her little extra.
"It worked like a miracle!!” she exclaimed. “If I would have known about the iodized salt earlier, I might have saved my two unborn children," she said.
Thanks to the initiatives taken by UNICEF, all twenty members of Sivani Self Help Group were aware of the harmful effects of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) and not only consumed iodized salt in their families but also traded in it. With no formal education, these tribal entrepreneurs were living examples for the other 776 women’s self help groups of Koraput and many others spread across the state.
“The people of our Padampur village have no clue about iodine deficiency disorder (IDD). We also didn’t know that the cheap, wet salt we bought locally did not protect us against IDD. Also, many of our children and adults had a swelling in their throats. We were worried,” says Kamala Khara whose ten-year-old son had goitre.
According to a study conducted by MKCG medical college, Berhampur, the prevalence of goitre in Koraput district was around 22.4 percent, 5 times more than the maximum limit of 4 per cent as laid by WHO to be considered as a public health problem.
The women of Sivani SHG saw an opportunity. They already sold rice and kerosene under the public distribution system (PDS), and they added the iodized salt to the list. The women used to dispense low-priced washing soap in lieu of small change to customers; iodized salt packets replaced these. They not only made profits but at the same time contributed in IDD reduction.
The first attempt was made on July 21, 2006 with 50 kg iodized salt procured locally at a total cost of Rs.225/- (US$ 5.62). The packets sold like hot cakes in less than 2 hours. That has risen to 4 metric tones (4000 kgs) and the outlay pegged close to Rs. 20,000/- (US$ 500).
Kamala Khara, the SHG president said, "We took a risk and ordered a huge amount of salt to promote the iodized salt campaign. All our salt stock was sold and we have ordered more.”
The Sivani Self Help Group had already sold more than 5 metric tons of salt and involved 50 other SHGs both within and outside their area. "We did not know about the consequence of iodine deficiency and iodized salt, but thanks to Sivani SHG we now know and we have also profited from the salt trade," said Suajani of Sirimani SHG from a neighboring village.
Gayatri Singh, Nutrition Officer at UNICEF Bhubaneshwar says, "Initially people were a bit apprehensive but when we tested the salt before their eyes, spoke about the benefits of IDD and trained the women on care and safe behaviors, things changed. Repeated information, education and communication efforts led to the creation of a demand.”
Usha Padhi, Director, Department of Women and Child Development said, "Although officially non-iodized salt was banned in the area but the sale was quite rampant. The real change was brought in by these SHG members as they stopped selling the non-iodized salt even in local markets. We have planned to give the marketing charge of salts in other government programmes to these SHGs too."