Building a healthy Malawi

Due to poverty and other factors, most families in both urban or rural areas still strive to have good and nutritious meals on a daily basis.

For many, it is a matter of just having their stomachs full. The aspect of the nutrition value the food items bring in their bodies is underestimated.

An extension worker checking is a child is malnourished or not

However, through various interventions, most women such as Farida Mfaume, 46, a mother of five from Mkombozi Village in Nkhotakota, do not worry if they don’t have money to buy food of the recommended six groups.

She says: “There are now more options to choose from when it comes to feeding my family with nutritious meals. I now have the capacity and knowledge on how to make the best meals from indigenous crops.”

Mfaume narrates that before extension officers in her area exposed them to food diversification and food utilisation processes, her family suffered from malnutrition.

“Every month, my children were being admitted to the hospital because the food they were eating did them more harm than good as it wasn’t nutritious,” she says.

With the help of a care group member in her village, Mfaume was introduced to best practices on how she can produce indigenous vegetables and other crops such as cassava which do well in the area to save her family from its long relationship with hunger and poverty.

“I used to cling to maize farming which wasn’t that productive. Every year I harvested low yields and I couldn’t even afford to buy extra maize with the little money I got from piece work, but now my story is different.

 “I now have a backyard garden and I have a well taken-care-of toilet near my house which has helped to distance my family from diseases,” she adds.

From the same village, a 49-year-old mother of six, Khadja Ziyada, says she previously did not know the difference between a nourished and malnourished child.

“We ended up hating one another in the community when children were mysteriously dying without knowing it was due to malnutrition.

“But now we are able to know if a child is really healthy or not and if not healthy we know what kind of food is to be given to him or her,” she says.

Village head Mkombozi agrees with his people saying the area has changed from the way it used to look.

He says: “Healthy families do a lot of good to development. With the coming in of various interventions on crop production and utilisation in my community, most families are now doing well physically and economically.”

The Mkombozi community has managed to reach its greater heights in reducing malnutrition levels of pregnant women and under-five children with the help of the European Union funded Afikepo project which is being implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

Afikepo, which means ‘Let them (the children) develop to their full potential’, is a five-year nutrition project which aims to enhance nutrition security in Malawi and specifically seeks to address chronic nutrition in Malawi.

The immediate causes of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies in Malawi are poor diets, with only eight percent of children between the ages of six and 23 months meeting the minimum acceptable diet.

Nkhotakota district environmental officer and a member of the district’s nutrition coordination committee Jane Kayira says the development is timely as the district has been registering a tremendous increase in stunting levels.

“We are encouraging women and men to help one another when it comes to production and consumption of nutritious foods by themselves and their children for a healthy Nkhotakota. We believe the genesis of tackling this problem begins from the household level,” she says.

Mkombozi Extension Planning Area (EPA) agriculture extension development officer John Mangani says gender mainstreaming in the agriculture sector is the best way to achieve food security in the country.

“Both men and women are involved in child bearing which is why it is also important that they join hands in making sure they provide for the children,” he adds.

Nkhotakota district Afikepo project coordinator Patrick Khombe explains that despite most people in the area being farmers, they lacked the aspect of integrating nutrition elements into crop production.

“We are involving care groups as platforms to deliver behaviour change communication messages that promote the uptake of community-based health and nutrition services.

“We are imparting the care groups with knowledge on how they can help farmers diversify their production to have access to the six needed food groups and have healthy families,” he says.

Nutrition expert Mary Shaba says even though the Afikepo project continues making strides in reducing malnutrition of pregnant mothers and children in the country, there is still much to be done on the sustainability part.

“There is need for project implementers to involve individuals on the ground so that when the project phases out, the interventions should sustain.

“These people will help to follow if indeed pregnant mothers are taking nutritious foods and continue to do so when they give birth. If we do this malnutrition would be reduced to 20 percent because that’s what we want to achieve as a nation,” says Shaba who previously served as principal secretary for Nutrition and HIV and Aids in the Office of the President and Cabinet.

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