Addressing nutrition security

market produceCharles Dhewa —
While agricultural production should translate to national food and nutrition security, the link between availability of food and the nutritional status of people at community level is yet to be clearly articulated in order to inform policy.

For instance, it is difficult to understand why malnutrition is high in districts and wards that produce surplus food that find its way to urban markets.

According to the National Nutrition Survey (NNS) conducted in 2010, the following districts were identified as having higher prevalence of malnutrition in Zimbabwe: Gutu, Masvingo, Chivi, Makoni, Mutare, Buhera, Nyanga, Mbire, Mt Darwin, Mazowe, Tsholotsho, Centenary, Gokwe South, Gokwe North and Kwekwe.

Market evidence gathered by eMKambo over the past few years has shown that Makoni, Buhera, Nyanga, Mazowe, Centenary and Mt Darwin are some of the consistent suppliers of a wide range of agricultural commodities into Mbare market.

Tsholotsho and Gokwe South have also been consistent suppliers of small grains and sweet potatoes to Bulawayo markets respectively. A lot of maize grain has also found its way from Gokwe North to Harare, Gweru, Kwekwe and Bulawayo.

Mapping agricultural commodities that flow into urban markets enables us to ask pertinent questions. For instance, why do we have malnutrition in Makoni and Nyanga districts that are in natural farming region one and are popular for diverse field crops and horticulture?

How can malnutrition be high in Gokwe South district where we have the famous Bomba agricultural market where different agricultural commodities are found throughout the year?

Shouldn’t districts that produce a lot of food have low levels of malnutrition?
Answering these questions requires a coordinated effort exploring the nexus between agricultural production and local people’s nutritional levels. Government has endorsed a Community Based Model (CBM) to address food and nutrition insecurity, with a particular focus on reducing stunting.

This is a priority outcome of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset). Focusing on stunting among children is a commendable idea. However, there is evidence showing that malnutrition is also affecting adults. In this case, malnutrition can minimize people’s participation in socio-economic activities.

In almost all rural communities, there is not as much knowledge about nutrition as there is about agricultural production. A lot of food is being produced in many districts and wards but lack of general knowledge about nutrition is weakening the capability of local people to combine their food systems in nutritionally-informed ways.

The situation is worsened by the fact that, based on sadza, nyama and vegetables, our diet is too monotonous and completely unbalanced.

Stunting has been identified as the biggest nutrition challenge facing children under the age of five in Zimbabwe. While the Community-Based Model makes sense, it does not have to be top-down if it is to achieve better results.

It is also not enough to focus on children from the age of 0-59 months, women of reproductive age (15-49 years old) for maternal nutrition practices and mothers or caregivers of children 0-23 months old.

A holistic nutritional strategy is badly needed in determining and evaluating the food and nutrition security situation of every community. Children live in communities where there are adults whose capability has to be built if food and nutrition security interventions are to be sustainable.

Investing in data and information is not enough without investing in practices
The Community Based Model certainly requires building a strong institutional memory at community level, comprising various disciplines not just nutritionists and agricultural experts. If there is no individual and institutional memory there is no learning.

Each community should have food and nutrition security structures, operating procedures and processes as part of community memory. Processes and procedures are built up over time, and represent the community’s view of how they have done things and continue to do things.

If the community is to learn, these processes must evolve over time. Unfortunately, because it is easier to invest in computer systems and data systems than investing in changing the way people work, the temptation is for those implementing food and nutrition security interventions to build a fancy data system in the belief that knowledge will follow.

eMKambo has seen many instances where data is enclosed in computers and silos while people struggle with looking for solutions. For instance, some public and private organisations are maintaining knowledge asymmetry by collecting agricultural data and turning it into a closed competitive advantage.

If food and nutrition security is to be achieved, we have to invest not only in data and information, but in knowledge building practices not just IT systems. Although access to data and information is important for knowledge, this does not follow from data and information automatically.

The situation can be worse in rural communities where digital literacy is low.

Leveraging the long tail of community knowledge
With respect to nutrition, we should not fall into the trap of assuming that all knowledge lies with the experts. There is a lot of tacit knowledge among mothers, grandmothers and community members.

Looking for people who know local food systems and asking them questions will reveal some of the most important knowledge currently hidden from policy makers.

Just as much of the knowledge in formal organisations is provisional and not absolute, each local community has a lot of provisional knowledge that needs to be validated. That cannot happen if all ideas are brought from outside.

Through the exchange of provisional knowledge, each community begins to create shared knowledge. And once the knowledge is shared and agreed, then it can be moved into other communities where it is validated and kept fresh.

Helping communities build resilient nutritional knowledge systems
Through social media and other ways of sharing nutrition knowledge, communities should be able to use all their human senses in generating, sharing and preserving their knowledge. That will partly enable them to keep their knowledge resilient.

Taking advantage of their connected reality, local people’s collective knowledge can be kept resilient through finding other communities with whom they can continuously test and update their knowledge.

The best way to motivate communities to learn is by helping them build and strengthen their own knowledge ecosystems. Otherwise they will not see the need to strive for a high-performance nutritional culture where everyone is open to new knowledge.

Improving the nutritional status of rural communities requires us to work with local people in their social context as well as respond to their hopes and fears.

Inspiring behaviour change around food and nutrition requires a multi-disciplinary effort. It cannot be done by one profession or set of expertise. We will need to combine several approaches including infrastructure design, observational and social research, design thinking, social psychology as well as social communication and marketing.

Charles Dhewa is a proactive knowledge management specialist and chief executive officer of Knowledge Transfer Africa (Pvt) ( ) whose flagship eMKambo ( ) has a presence in more than 20 agricultural markets in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on: [email protected] ; Mobile: +263 774 430 309 / 772 137 717/ 712 737 430.

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