Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition

June 20, 2012

In Zambia, 45% or almost one million children under five years old are stunted. This is a result of chronic malnutrition, which is usually caused by the lack of good-quality food, poor health, and poor access to health care particularly in the first 1,000 day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday.

To address the issue, Concern together with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Kerry Group launched a program called Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition (RAIN) to prevent stunting in young children by introducing a package of agriculture-based interventions to improve nutrition. Other stakeholders include the Mumbwa Child Development Agency (a local community-based organisation), the Zambia Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and the Zambia Ministry of Health.

The RAIN program, currently being implemented in Mumbwa District, Zambia is working to understand and address the underlying causes of malnutrition. Like many traditional food security interventions, the RAIN project aims to effectively improve food availability and access. But one of the major and defining differences of the RAIN approach will be the emphasis on understanding how to link improved agriculture with improving nutrition. In this way, RAIN aims to go beyond the traditional objectives of food security programs (e.g. increased yields, reported increase in meals per day) and to focus on measureable improving nutrition, especially for pregnant mothers and children.

Catherine Mweene is a pregnant mother of two small children and a selected Smallholder Model Farmer for the RAIN project Mumbwa.

Before the project she only used to grow maize, groundnuts and sweet potatoes on her plot of seven hectares. But now she also grows watermelons, pumpkins and pumpkin leaves, cabbage, beans and cowpeas, and uses the milk from a goat that was given to her by RAIN for her children.

As a Smallholder Model Farmer, Catherine teaches a group of 16 women farmers about the best ways to grow their new crops, and what to feed their children, especially when they are pregnant. She talks a lot about malnutrition and how to prevent it. Her own practices have also changed during her current pregnancy. With her past two pregnancies she would have eaten fewer meals per day and ate from fewer food groups. Now she is careful to eat often.

“I try to eat four to five times per day. I have added sweet potato, vegetables, cabbage and pumpkin leaves. I tell this also to the women who I teach in their home gardens. They know the importance of their home gardens. They are learning that it is easy and cheap and they know the importance of feeding their babies with extra foods after they are six months old. I like that I have this extra knowledge and I am happy that I can teach them. They are giving their children the right foods that they are growing themselves and are becoming better at looking after their gardens, which is making them proud.”