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Participatory nutrition education catalyst for dietary diversity

FAO-led food and nutrition security intervention shows added value of nutrition education to improve complementary feeding practices among children

Caregivers in food preparation session (FAO/Stacia Nordin)

23 February 2015 – Lilongwe, Malawi – Compelling evidence has emerged showing that food security interventions together with participatory nutrition education greatly improve children’s nutritional status and have a direct effect on children’s dietary diversity, according to research findings released last week Wednesday in Malawi.

A joint study conducted by the Government of Malawi, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Justus-Liebig University Giessen in Germany focusing on improving the dietary intakes and nutritional status of infants and young children reveals that where a nutrition education approach was applied, dietary diversification and consumption of protein rich foods (foods from animals, legumes and nuts) increased sharply.

Thanks to financial support from the Royal Kingdom of Belgium and Government of Germany, the study looked at how locally developed behaviour change messages and nutritionally-improved recipes can lead to lasting improvements.

The results show that diverse, locally available and affordable foods can be used to prepare nutritious complementary feeds and how nutrition education linked with a food security intervention can sustainably improve infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices. 

The current 42 percent stunting levels in Malawi, means that almost half of children under five are chronically malnourished and constrained to fully develop their physical and cognitive potential, largely blamed on inadequate complementary feeding and care practices such as low dietary diversity and poor quality foods. 

Partnerships building key against malnutrition

FAO Representative in Malawi Ms Florence Rolle said hunger and all forms of malnutrition can easily be eradicated with strong partnerships among key stakeholders.  

“No partner can work on their own. The battle against malnutrition requires cooperation amongst sectors (health, agriculture, education, social protection), cooperation amongst actors (governments, scientists, civil society, private sector) and cooperation at all levels (community, district, national levels),” said Ms Rolle. 

While denouncing the unacceptable number of hungry people globally, Ms Rolle said resources are available to ensure food security with healthy and balanced nutrition for all. 

Strong political will and well articulated and complementary sectoral strategies are two key ingredients for success, she added.

High stunting as serious challenge

High rates of stunting in children under-five reflect the serious challenges faced by Malawi and other countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In low-income countries, the peak incidence of growth faltering, micronutrient efficiencies and infectious diseases occurs mostly in children 6-23 months of age. 

Inappropriate feeding practices during the complementary feeding period of six to 24 months contribute to inadequate nutrient intake among infants and young children. 

Research has shown that even when food resources are available, caregivers are often not able to make the best use of them, such as making nutritious porridge from locally available resources, because of inadequate knowledge and unhealthy beliefs and practices due to misunderstandings around food.

Deputy Secretary in the Department of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS Mr. Victor Sandikonda welcomed the research findings which he noted fit well with Malawi’s Scaling Up Nutrition  - 1000 Special Days Campaign.

“The research findings have come at the right time when the Department is reviewing its policy and strategic plan and results will help enhance interventions that have been tried and shown to be effective,” he said.

“We are ready to listen and discuss openly to improve the impact of our nutrition programme in Malawi and bring them to scale.”

Among other recommendations, the study notes that intensifying community mobilization to improve infant and young child feeding for the prevention of malnutrition is pivotal, while ensuring proper timing of nutrition education for families by recognizing workloads, which influence availability of participants at sessions. 

In addition, a comprehensive, continuous training system is needed at all levels of Health and Agriculture Extension Systems to assure that nutrition is integrated appropriately.

Provision of diversified and timely agricultural support in line with the seasonal agricultural calendar for all the food groups (fats, foods from animals, legumes and nuts, vegetables, fruits and staples) has also been mentioned as critical to improving nutrition status of children.

Overview of the IYCF component

Operating under the Improving Food Security and Nutrition (IFSN) in Malawi 2011-15 project with funding from Government of the Royal Kingdom of Belgium the IYCF component has covered 475 villages. The IYCF component was led by 29 Trainers of Trainers from Kasungu and Mzimba from relevant members of the District Nutrition Coordinating Committee, area Supervisors and Front Line Staff from Agriculture, Health, Education and Community Services. 

The trainers trained a total of 1 217 Community Nutrition Promoters and front Line Staff and Area Supervisors from Extension Planning Areas and Health Centres, in 475 villages.  Trainers were also involved in village leader sensitizations and in the implementation of monitoring, supervision and reporting activities.

Community Nutrition Promoters worked in their own village to facilitate 10 IYCF sessions with 15 caregivers who have children aged 6-18 months.  Fathers, village leaders and grandmothers were encouraged to attend sessions as they have an important role in family support and decision-making. The caregiver groups met on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for approximately two hours. 

A total of 11,615 Malawians were reached to date. A final training is currently taking place and support is being provided on institutionalization of the approach in government and community systems for sustainability.


Related link: http://www.fao.org/about/meetings/icn2/en/ 


Mike Chipalasa
Communications Officer
Mob. (+265) 888 715 385

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