15 November 2018
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Arresting malnutrition through local foods

Written by  Macneil Kalowekamo
DIVERSITY OF FOOD: Assorted nutritious food on display during a public event in Zomba - Picture courtesy of Comsip DIVERSITY OF FOOD: Assorted nutritious food on display during a public event in Zomba - Picture courtesy of Comsip

Zomba, June 13, 2018: Malawi’s stunting levels is ranked one of the highest in Africa with 37 of 100 children under five years of age being stunted. This is according to the Malawi Development Growth Strategy (MDGS) III.

Several factors are said to contribute to high rates of stunting but chief among them is poor maternal nutrition and lack of dietary diversity in under five children.

Less than eight percent of children aged 6-23 months receive the minimum acceptable diet set out in the 2008 World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, according to the Malawi Demographic Health Survey of 2015/16.

Although stunting rates decreased from 47 percent to 37 in the last six years or so, the ripple effect of this challenge could take so many years to calm down.

Emerging risks

The long-term impact of under nutrition in children permeates all levels of social and economic spectrums.

For instance, underweight and wasting in children spawn increased risks of mortality, poor performance at school and reduction of income generating capability in adult life. These intergenerational consequences breed an unproductive population.

The resultant cost on the country’s economic growth is huge.

Sectors such as health and education remain the most affected with a combined loss of US$60 million due to undernutrition, according to the MGDS III. Total losses are estimated at US$597 million which translates to 10.3 percent of the country’ wealth.

Increased climate-related shocks such as drought and floods are the emerging risks driving people, especially rural populations, into extreme poverty.

Poor harvests as a result of erratic weather patterns and proliferation of worm infestation in crops expose many households to food insecurity. Little food on the table means little dietary requirements for the nourishment of the human body.

But that being the case, the nutritional status of households has always remained poor even in the years of plenty production in crop and livestock.

This has been partly due to the perception of people in valuing other foods at the expense of other equally nutritious foods, a conspicuous eye sore from the general lack of efforts in diversifying diets.

Among one of the communities in Zomba district, regarding meat products from goat, chicken and cattle as the only source of protein has been a prevalent perception for a long time, says Catherine Mmenyanga of Namande Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlumbe.

“People think that meat from these domestic animals is the only source of protein. But here we have crabs (Nkhanu) in our rivers, they are cheap with high protein value,” said Mmenyanga recently during a community show for production of nutritious element from locally available food held in the district.

Mmenyanga is one of the nutrition and health promoters in her area working under Madalitso Cluster, an all women grouping for social and economic empowerment through community savings and investment in various businesses.

Changing attitudes

Promoting community involvement and ownership in behavior change towards improving knowledge, attitudes and practices in nutrition is one of the strategies government is advancing in addressing the nutrition problem in the country.

It is admirable to see that some communities are already taking up the initiative.

Shukurani and Madalitso Clusters are two women groups promoting the maximum use of organic foods to improve the nutrition status of their villages and communities.

The groups attest that meeting all the six food groups for a diet is not as expensive as many people think.

“We prepare assorted nutritious food from locally available crop produce like maize and soy bean. We produce juice from fruits like granadillas, guava and other wild leaves,” says Twaina Mgaye, chairperson for Shukurani Cluster.

“Simply put, there is a lot of nutrition value in most foods that people ignore. What matters most is maximum exploitation of their potential through proper preparation and mixing with other food elements,” adds Mmenyanga of Madalitso Cluster.

The groups are also doing business by selling nutritious products such as thobwa, a locally fermented drink from maize, millet and sorghum, local fruit juices, cassava flakes and banana wafers.

The businesses are carried out both at individual and group level from the combined membership of 60 women.

At group level, Madalitso women fry zitumbuwa, fritters that are made with Soybean flour.

“The fritters are nutritious and many people here love them,” says Mgaye, “We make about K5,000 a day from sales.”

For Shukurani, they make do with the production of local juices from fruits such as granadilla, guava.

Their economic activities are part of the investment in the health of individual members and households in their surrounding communities and these are done with support from the Community Savings and Investment Promotion (COMSIP).

COMSIP provides a facilitation fund for capacity building through various trainings that include financial literacy and business management.

It is recommended that before being used, the funds should be multiplied through lending to members at affordable interest rates set by the groups.   

Shukurani and Madalitso Clusters each received a grant of K250, 000 for trainings in business management and financial literacy.

Lamp of society

The skills that cluster members have gained are now helping to ramp up efforts in improving nutrition in their communities through their businesses in well prepared food items. And their dreams continue to grow.

In the next five years, Madalitso Cluster wants to acquire a cooking oil extracting machine while their counterparts, Shukurani, intends to procure a machine for processing fruit juice in large scale.

Senior community development assistant Patrick Ross supervises communities in T/A Mlumbe and says the two clusters have brought change of mindset to certain foods in the area.

“They are teaching people on how to add value to some foods in meeting the required nutrients from all six food groups,” says Ross.

“They are the lamp of the society and we have seen a surge of women interested to join the groups. Everyone wants to eliminate malnutrition in their homes,” says Ross.

 

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