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Addressing food, nutrition insecurity from grass roots

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By Watipaso Mzungu, Contributor:

EQUIPPED TO PRODUCE VEGETABLES SUSTAINABLY— Sefu

Sophie Sefu, 41, has joined fellow villagers in Mitawa II, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chauma, in Dedza, in a community push to build resilience against food and nutrition insecurity resulting from adverse effects of climate change.

The communities in this area are working with Welthungerhilfe (WHH) to achieve sustainable food and nutrition security through promotion of context specific appropriate agriculture, access to clean drinking water, hygiene and nutrition education.

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WHH is a German non-governmental humanitarian aid and development agency which was founded in 1962 under the umbrella of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. Its vision is to create a world where all people have the opportunity to exercise their right to a self-determined life in dignity and justice, free from hunger and poverty.

Sefu says the community realised the importance of being part of a united solution to the adverse effects of climate change.

“We have resolved to actively participate in activities aimed to address hazardous impacts of climate change because rural communities are usually at the receiving end of the problems created by climate change,” she explains.

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Across the globe, climate change has posed serious challenges to efforts of governments and non-governmental organisations to address food and nutrition insecurity at household, community, national and international level.

In the run-up to the drafting of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Oxfam International Economic Justice Policy Advisor, David Taylor, said in a world that produces enough food to feed everyone, there is no excuse for anyone to go hungry and suffer from malnutrition.

Yet, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that there are still 842 million people who are under-nourished, representing one in eight globally.

WHH Head of Project, Renata Krzywon- Schramm, says the adverse impacts of climate change prompted them to work with rural communities in Dedza to address food and nutrition insecurity at household and community level.

On the international scene, Krzywon- Schramm says her organisation is currently implementing over 350 projects in 40 countries, contributing towards global efforts to end hunger and malnutrition.

“In Malawi, Welthungerhilfe aims to contribute towards government efforts to tackle problems of poor health and malnutrition,” she explains.

WHH is also implementing the Community and School Health Clubs using the Participatory Hygiene and Nutrition Education (PHNE) approach.

The approach was developed as part of a consultative and integrative process aimed at establishing a hygiene promotion strategy that gives power to the community.

This is achieved by facilitating and fostering community based decisions making processes that promote feasible sanitation, hygiene and nutrition solutions and keeping each other accountable.

The PHNE approach is also used in primary schools through School Health Clubs.

WHH District Facilitator in Dedza, Lameck Mtali, says PHNE is derived from the understanding that tackling diseases of poor health and nutrition will not only have an immediate effect on an individual’s education, by reducing the number of years of schooling that are lost to poor health, but school health and nutrition interventions can have an impact on education on a global scale.

Mtali adds that school health and nutrition has the potential to improve equity in education by helping girls and boys from low-income families to attain good education.

He says: “These after-school activities catch the children young and impress health, hygiene and nutrition-seeking behaviour into the young who in turn become advocates of improved nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene services in the communities by talking about and practicing the basic hygiene and nutrition practices at home.”

Building on the trainings and technical expertise from WHH, communities under Authority (T/A) Chauma in Dedza have become a marvel to their neighbours.

They have developed backyard gardens where they grow various types of vegetables and fruit species.

Sefu says growing one’s own food has many health benefits: It helps one eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and lets you control when to harvest your food.

“Vegetables that ripen in the garden have more nutrients than some store-bought vegetables that must be picked early,” she says.

Additionally, communities have been taught how they can maximise the benefits of livestock farming by harvesting manure for use in their gardens.

Sefu adds: “We have been taught that vegetables produced with organic fertilisers (manure) are more nutritious and have no side effects to our health. Besides, manure are is to access than chemical fertilisers.”

Loreta Francis, 35, of Mkuta Village adds that backyard gardens help families earn an income on top of their traditional agricultural produce.

“Since we cannot consume all the vegetables we produce, we sell some of them to pay school development fund for our school-going children,” Francis says.

Thirty-two-year-old FelisterYesaya says through the school infrastructure development component of the WHH project, communities in the area have been empowered to support the improvement of infrastructure in the targeted primary schools.

She says this enabled them to create a conducive and enabling learning environment for their children.

“We are doing this through construction and rehabilitation of sanitary facilities, construction or rehabilitation of boreholes and construction of school kitchen including storage capacities. So, this project has not only helped us tackle hunger and malnutrition at household and community level, but also address the sanitation and hygiene challenges in schools surrounding us,” Yesaya narrates.

Mtali states that the overall objective of the initiative is to achieve improved knowledge and uptake of safe sanitary and hygiene as well as improved nutrition practices at the primary schools and in surrounding communities.

Mtali says the strength of PHNE approach lies in the use of training tools, which are adaptable and flexible to suit the context of low-income settlements in rural areas.

“This makes the programme more sustainable and ensures it bears meaningful impact on beneficiary communities,” he stresses.

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