Tuning in for nutrition
By Arnold Munthali, for Unicef:
Joyce Baloyi, from Kafwakula Village in Traditional Authority Kabunduli in Nkhata Bay, is a farmer and cluster leader for Takondwa Care Group.
As a cluster leader, Baloyi ensures the production of various crops and promotes dietary diversity among members of the group and their respective families.
“We grow vegetables and bananas and raise livestock such as chickens, rabbits and pigs. These give us nutritious food and help us and our children to live healthy lives.
“We also grow crops such as oranges and maize which are rich in Vitamin A and are suitable for children. We process the maize to give supplementary food to children aged between six and 11 months,” Baloyi says.
Agriculture extension workers and health surveillance assistants regularly visit the care group members to pass on knowledge about agriculture and nutrition. But not all farmers are as lucky.
Andrew Manda, who is Nkhata Bay Nutrition Officer for Afikepo Nutrition Programme, says Nkhata Bay district has a vacancy rate of over 40 per cent for agricultural extension workers, meaning not all farmers and families are visited as frequently.
Coupled with this challenge is Nkhata Bay’s terrain that is largely hilly and limits movement of agricultural extension workers.
These constraints, according to Manda, have affected transfer of knowledge on agriculture, particularly on nutrition.
To counter these challenges and reach the wider population, Afikepo formed 185 radio listening clubs across the district and partnered with two community radio stations, Chirundu and Usisya, to produce and broadcast information on agriculture and nutrition.
Manda says when Afikepo engaged the radio stations, it built their capacity to produce effective content for nutrition radio programmes.
“They are usually 30 minute programmes and they are aired twice a week.
They are produced in conjunction with the district information office, agriculture office and health promotion office,” Manda says.
Afikepo Nutrition Programme’s main goal is to end stunting in young children by targeting under-five children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and adolescent girls.
With funding from the European Union (EU), the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Unicef are implementing the programme in 10 districts, including Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Salima, Kasungu, Chiradzulu, Thyolo and Mulanje.
In Nkhata Bay, Afikepo promotes the production and consumption of nutrient dense foods such as orange maize, legumes and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.
To ensure retention of knowledge about nutrition among care groups, Afikepo trained members in radio listening skills such as how to listen to a radio programme, note taking and how to provide feedback to the producers.
The groups were provided with radio sets for them to listen to the programmes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We have also tried to teach the same skill to the adolescent groups. As most of them are young and interested in the radio, we sensitise them on how to produce diversified foods and improve their sanitation and hygiene practices,” Manda explains.
But the hilly terrain, Manda says, also interferes with the reception of radio signals, such that the transfer of knowledge on good agricultural and nutritional practices is impeded in some areas.
“The local radio stations we partnered with are not accessible in some areas, so we record the programmes and upload them into memory cards which we then distribute to the radio listening clubs,” he says.
After listening to a programme, care group members are encouraged to come up with their perception of the programme and discuss it with an expert who might be physically present or call in by phone.
Takondwa Care Group has a radio listening club and Baloyi says members listen to Chirundu Community Radio for programmes on breastfeeding, antenatal care, home care, hygiene, and agriculture, among other subjects.
“Most of the times when we are listening to the radio we have a health surveillance assistant, who explains in detail should we seek clarification.
“The programmes are important as they encourage us in our farming and guide us on how we can prepare our foods,” Baloyi says.