An unusual porridge concocted by an untraditional cook helps end child stunting in Zimbabwe


By cooking to improve his family’s nutrition, he also challenged gender roles

Cooking for the children is traditionally a woman’s task in rural Zimbabwe, but Samukute doesn’t mind challenging this old view. ©FAO

What appears to be a basic porridge quickly takes on new meaning outside the home of Syndon Samukute and his wife, Loice Chideya.

It starts out as regular cornmeal, but Samukute adds a few unusual ingredients. First, he cracks a raw egg and mixes it in for protein. Then he adds a bit of butternut squash and two small scoops of peanut butter, some sugar and iodized salt.

“It's easy to cook as well as nutritious,” he says as he shares small dollops with visitors. The result is quite tasty, the peanut butter and squash come together with the creamy porridge for a unique, but appetizing, taste. A “4-star”diet according to Samukute!

While cooking, Samukute amuses his audience with an active description of the nutritional value of the ingredients and his technique for preparing the unusual recipe. It is like watching a cooking show on TV, except that he's standing outside his home overlooking the green Honde Valley near the Mozambique border.

Left: It all started with his wife, Chideya, inviting him to a 10-day nutrition workshop organized by FAO’s Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme. Samukute took up cooking after this experience. Right: Samukute prepares his special porridge, describing the nutritional value of the ingredients and his technique for preparing the unusual recipe. ©FAO

It's an unusual recipe prepared by an unlikely cook in the rural depth of the Mutasa District in Zimbabwe. You don't see many men cooking here, much less cooking porridge for their children. So, how did this happen?

Samukute took up cooking when his wife Chideya invited him to a 10-day nutrition workshop. The training session was organized by FAO’s Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP), implemented by a consortium of partners and funded by Department for International Development (DFID).

When asked what other men think of his active role in the domestic chores normally managed by women, Samukute shrugs off the question. “I have no problem with cooking,” he states, an obvious understatement given the enthusiastic porridge preparation demonstration he just delivered.

“Most men” he says, “have strong patriarchal attitudes. They consider themselves the head of the household, and they don't cook. Most do not even know the foods their families need and therefore do not provide the right resources to meet their nutritional needs. I see men fighting new ideas, but their attitudes only lead us to underdevelopment. Men need to work with their wives.”

In addition to coaching participants in how to create a diverse diet, the LFSP project also helped them to diversify their food sources: what they grow and how they grow it. Samukute says it is easier to produce a balanced diet when you have the ingredients on hand. ''We grow most of the food that we eat here,'' he explains.

Despite being an area rich in agriculture, even in years when rains are good and harvests come in well, the average rate of stunting (slower than usual growth) of children under five years in the Mutasa district where Samukute lives was 31.5 percent in 2018. However, this has decreased significantly as, in 2010, the prevalence of stunting was as high as 47.2 percent. Chronic malnutrition and stunting remain a major challenge in Zimbabwe where the national rate of stunting for children under five was 26.2 percent as of 2018.

Samukute says he can now see that his boys were malnourished. “They could not even run. They would just collapse,” he recalls. They had food, he explains, but they did not have a balanced diet. “They told us it is hidden hunger. We eat but we lack many nutrients needed for the body to grow well.”

Chronic malnutrition and stunting remain a major challenge in Zimbabwe. Samukute and Chideya’s family had food, but it lacked nutritional variety. By diversifying crops and diets, their children’s health have improved and they have more energy to run and play. ©FAO

Samukute and Chideya’s family was probably like most in the area, says Maggie Makanza, a Gender Project Manager at Oxfam in Zimbabwe. “There's food, but it lacks the variety of nutrients. They would just eat the same things all the time,” she says.

Their sons are among thousands of young children across Zimbabwe whose nutritional status is rapidly improving. In their home, Samukute says, “We have lost these old views, and we're happy; our children are healthy.”

How can more men adopt views like Samukute’s? His solution is a practical one, “Get men involved in income generation activities that interest them and then link issues of household spending to health issues like nutrition, hygiene and others. Let them see how much malnutrition is costing them.”

LFSP helps farmers organize “nutrition circles,” where participants meet and share nutrition knowledge and food preparation methods. They use these sessions to promote good hygiene and encourage farmers to build decent latrines; better hygiene can reduce water-borne diseases that can counteract all the benefits of a good diet. Through these circles, they also learn about pre-natal care for pregnant women and post-natal care for lactating mothers, encouraging men to accompany their pregnant wives to the clinic. A #ZeroHunger world isn’t just about stopping people from going hungry, it is about ensuring that they get enough of the right kind of nutritious food to lead healthy productive lives.


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