Linking Agriculture and Nutrition

Originally published on November 9, 2015.

Maggie Mwaange and a neighbor sample local vegetables they dried at home.
Charles Mungamero has a picture of himself that was taken several years ago. The man in the photo looks gaunt, weak and aged beyond his years, a stark contrast to the healthy, vibrant man he is today. “You wouldn’t recognize me,” he marveled, “the difference is that significant.”

Like many of his neighbors in the southern Zambian village of Masopo, Mr. Mungamero has witnessed a physical transformation over the last few years as a result of Land O’Lakes efforts to bolster the nutritional status of community members. In Zambia’s Southern and Western Provinces, households constantly struggle with severe food insecurity in the face of frequent droughts, floods and significant labor constraints. Families often consume less than three meals a day – some as few as one – and the food they do have lacks critical vitamins and minerals. Malnutrition is prevalent, particularly among children under the age of five. The situation is further exacerbated by the decimation of the local cattle herds due to a highly contagious livestock disease, which has deprived local households of their livelihoods, assets and buying power.

Land O’Lakes International Development has helped individuals like Mr. Mungamero address these challenges through the USAID-funded Consortium for Food Security, Agriculture and Nutrition, AIDS, Resiliency and Markets (C-FAARM) program, a five year initiative that diversified and increased agricultural livelihoods for vulnerable households. As part of this consortium, Land O’Lakes led the dairy and livestock programming intended to reduce food insecurity among vulnerable populations by increasing incomes and improving household health. To that end, Land O’Lakes developed a breadth of nutrition-related activities, from increasing household dietary intake and diversity to bolstering the capability of Community Health Workers (CHW) to identify malnutrition.

In Masopo, C-FAARM worked with a thriving dairy cooperative (established with USAID funding under a previous Land O’Lakes project) to encourage smallholder households to adopt improved nutrition habits. Cooperative members diligently provided their livestock with the very best care – including meticulously blending feed to ensure that animals were well nourished – but, as C-FAARM Project Manager Johns Nyironga noted, “families weren’t cared for in the same manner.” In short, cooperative members lacked basic training on human nutrition; while their livestock were hardy and healthy, they were not.

We used to look and feel very old; now, you can see the physical difference good nutrition makes.

Charles Mungamero (C-FAARM Client)

Dairy trainings and farmer field days provided the perfect opportunity for Land O’Lakes to link agriculture and nutrition to promote improved household health. When farmers were taught proper hygiene practices for milk safety, a nutrition specialist gave a complementary training on the importance of good hygiene and sanitation in the home. Training on calf rearing provided an opportunity to demonstrate healthy ways to care for children, including how to breastfeed. Discussions regarding how to make nutrient rich feed were coupled with the promotion of milk consumption in the household and a cooking demonstration that highlighted how milk could be used in a variety of menus.

To monitor the boy's nutritional status a community health worker takes his measurements.
Maggie Mwaanga, a Masopo Dairy Cooperative member, relished the opportunity to put her nutrition knowledge into practice. Land O’Lakes’ trainings promoted the consumption of locally available, highly-nutritious foods and their regular incorporation into the family diet. Although many smallholder farmers in Zambia struggle to access adequate amounts of food throughout the year, it becomes particularly difficult during the “hunger months” when reserves from agricultural harvests run out. To help counteract this, Mrs. Mwaanga explained, “Land O’Lakes taught me how to preserve vegetables so that my family can continue to consume nutritious greens during the lean months.” Using an inexpensive solar drying method that prevents food contamination, smallholder families can harvest vegetables when they are plentiful and incorporate them into their diets year-round. Mrs. Mwaanga’s youngest daughter used to suffer from moderate malnutrition. Now, with the introduction of milk and vegetables into her diet on a regular basis, her health is thriving.

To ensure that cooperative members were adopting these improved nutrition practices at the household level, Land O’Lakes connected with local CHWs, who go from house to house and serve as the eyes and ears for local health clinics. C-FAARM bolstered CHW’s skills in nutrition education, counseling and referrals, and provided them with tools for easy malnutrition screening of children. Armed with the necessary skills and equipment, local CHWs were able to provide in-home nutrition guidance, where needed. Evans Chaaba, a Masopo CHW, noticed a significant improvement in the nutritional status of the children he monitors. “Prior to C-FAARM, when cases of malnourishment arose, they were very severe. Now, the rare cases that are seen are much milder and more easily addressed.”

Linking agriculture and nutrition can have a transformative effect on a population. By integrating nutrition awareness messages and trainings into dairy sector activities, Land O’Lakes helped improve household health in southern Zambia, as epitomized by Charles Mungamero. “We have rejuvenated ourselves due to the nutrition training,” he stated. “We didn’t know what comprised a balanced diet, or how many meals to consume a day.” As for that old picture he keeps of himself, Mr. Mungamero laughed, “We used to look and feel very old; now, you can see the physical difference good nutrition makes.”