The 1,000-day period between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday is critical to the life of both mother and child. During this period, good nutrition is essential to health, growth, and development in the years that follow.
A mother who doesn’t eat enough nutritious food during her pregnancy will provide fewer nutrients to her child. And if upon birth that child eats infrequently or with little variety, he or she may become malnourished and set on a course of hindered growth and development.
In Zambia, nearly 45 percent of children under five years old suffer from stunting, a condition of low height for a given age, indicating poor nutrition. In 2011, we measured the rate of stunting in our program area in Mumbwa District and found an above-average rate of 59 percent.
This indicated a larger problem for the region, as stunting in young children points to a shortage of nutritious food, chronic malnutrition, and reduced access to comprehensive health care.
With the help of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Irish Aid, and the Kerry Group, Concern developed an award-winning program called Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition, or RAIN. Its mission is simple: to determine the root causes of malnutrition and to address them directly through better agriculture.
RAIN’s potential reach and impact were increased through partnerships with the local Mumbwa Child Development Agency, the Zambia Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and the Zambia Ministry of Health. These relationships also strengthened a sense of community ownership and accountability.
RAIN bolsters the traditional approach of increasing food availability and access by combining it with agricultural best practices for the region and a direct focus on nutrition.
Suddenly, mothers like Catherine Mweene, who previously had limited foods to eat when they were pregnant, found themselves learning to grow more diverse crops. Where she had previously farmed only maize, groundnuts, and sweet potatoes, Catherine now also grows watermelons, pumpkins and pumpkin leaves, cabbage, beans, and cowpeas.
Catherine Mweene with her children and her new goat. Photo: Patrick Bentley
RAIN also provided her with a milk-producing goat. With a bigger, more well-rounded harvest plus a steady supply of milk, both Catherine and her small children are now able to eat balanced diets.
Catherine is such a believer in the program that she now teaches the principles of RAIN to others in her community. Steadily, nutrition is improving among children under five and in the wider community.
View a short video on the RAIN project: