Not just another delicacy
By Arnold Munthali:
A chicken is a delicacy to many. But to Gaster Musukwa, consuming chicken is par for the course, just as common as consuming vegetables.
The farmer, from Donald Village in Traditional Authority Mwenemisuku area in Chitipa, is a model of self-reliance and lives a life of contentment on his vast piece of land.
He has about 200 trees of tangerines, oranges, pears and mangoes, and also raises 10 cows, seven goats, 11 sheep and three pigs.
“I had 300 chickens a few weeks ago but I sold all of them and started all over again. I harvest them when they are too many so that I can use the money to pay school fees and other necessities. I now have 30 chickens,” Musukwa says.
He started farming in 2006 by growing maize, driven by a desire to be food sufficient. Since then, it has been a process of incremental growth and learning.
In the same year, he started rearing 70 Black Australorps (Mikolongwe chickens), two cows, some goats and sheep, and a pig which a relation gifted him.
In 2012, he diversified to beekeeping and also constructed a fish pond where he started raising fish. By 2013, he had added fruits to his growing portfolio of farm products.
“What led me into farming was a desire to have enough food as well as have some to spare for sale. Proceeds from the crops and livestock assist me to pay school fees for my children, including one who is at Mzuzu University,” explains Musukwa.
He is one person who has adopted what is referred to as nutrition-sensitive agriculture which is being promoted by Afikepo Nutrition Programme.
At the heart of the programme is the belief that children can reach their full potential, both in physical growth and cognitive abilities, if they have access to proper nutrition and hygiene.
Unicef states that children need the right foods at the right time to grow and develop to their full potential.
“The most critical time for good nutrition is during the 1,000-day period from pregnancy until a child’s second birthday,” the UN agency says.
The Afikepo programme encourages families to feed their children food from the six food groups.
In Chitipa, as in nine other districts across the country, the programme is promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture to curb malnutrition among under-five children, women of childbearing age, pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as adolescent girls.
As Chance Kamwendo, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Nutritionist for Afikepo in Chitipa, explains, the programme promotes food diversity, emphasising the consumption of six food groups, as well as issues of hygiene.
“Afikepo means children have to be well-fed and well-nourished so that they should reach their full potential in terms of height or cognitive abilities. Specifically, we are looking at nutrition sensitive agriculture in terms of production,” said Kamwendo says.
In promoting nutrition sensitive agriculture, Afikepo focuses not only on food production, but also food utilisation and diversity.
In Chitipa, which has about 234,000 people, Afikepo is reaching about 129,000 people in 28,000 families.
So much has been achieved since the project was rolled out in 2017.
As Kamwendo explains, issues of hygiene have improved, knowledge on consumption of six food groups has increased and there has been a marked improvement in adoption of nutrition messages and best practices.
“Nutrition indicators have improved. For example, stunting was at 35 percent in 2016, but it is now at 33 percent. There is also a high adoption of bio-fortified foods such as orange maize and beans.
“At the beginning of the project, there were no bio-fortified foods being grown in the district. But if you go into the villages now, people are demanding them,” Kamwendo adds.
He explains that Musukwa is a shining star among many in the district who have adopted the concept of nutrition-sensitive agriculture.
The farmer, Kamwendo says, has intensified the cultivation of different fruits and other crops because of the message he has been receiving from cluster leaders.
“At first, he had fruit trees and the like, but in terms of utilisation, he was just focused on selling them. He had under-five children, but he didn’t know that these food groups, the six food groups, need to be consumed the way they are.
“Sometimes they would just consume one type of food, but now he knows that he needs to combine different foods to enrich his diet and also feed the grandchildren living with him,” Kamwendo explains.
Musukwa, who has five grown-up children and seven grandchildren, agrees. He says there is a difference in the way he feeds his grandchildren from the way he raised his children.
“It is important for children to be fed properly. We didn’t know about proper feeding and the importance of feeding children the six food groups.
“We only knew about three groups. If you look at my grandchildren, you can tell they eat nutritious food. Their bodies are healthy and they are also sharp,” he says.
With funding from the European Union, FAO and Unicef are implementing the Afikepo Nutrition Programme in Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Salima, Kasungu, Chiradzulu, Thyolo and Mulanje under the overall coordination of the Department of Nutrition, HIV and Aids and the direct implementation of the Ministry of Agriculture.