Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
Child malnutrition is widespread across Zimbabwe with little attention being given towards allocating more financial resources to fight undernourishment.
Despite being the major victims of malnutrition, children and grassroots communities do not have platforms to raise their voices on the need to increase nutrition financing and improve community-based nutrition service delivery.
There is little or no food and nutrition information to guide the design of relevant nutrition interventions, assessment of progress made by on-going nutrition initiatives and ensure improved nutrition service management and coordination amongst local communities in the country.
Nutrition Information Systems (NIS) provides opportunities for children, youths and grassroots communities to participate in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets, particularly SDG 2 which seeks to end hunger and malnutrition.
It is against this background that the Rural Enterprise Trust of Zimbabwe (RETZ) in partnership with the Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (ZCSOSUNA) and the Zimbabwe Youth Council (ZYC) Mashonaland Central are establishing NIS in Bindura.
With funds permitting, the programme will be rolled to other rural communities across the country.
NIS will help in nutrition service management and coordination, and for community social accountability and monitoring which could help address malnutrition.
Under NIS, children and youth will be empowered to become citizen journalists who write community stories on community food and nutrition issues, gather feedback on nutrition services rendered and also monitor community nutrition service delivery.
In an interview with The Herald at the launch of the programme in Bindura recently, RETZ Head of Programmes, Cuthbert Mukora said they are going to develop tools and manuals for training in agriculture, food and nutrition story writing and telling.
“Stories will then be incorporated into policy development processes and nutrition advocacy to improve national resource allocation towards nutrition.
“The major primary indicator for this initiative is therefore Indicator 2.2.2: Prevalence of malnutrition among children. The NIS will increase participation of youths towards achieving SDG 2 whilst strengthening mechanisms for mutual accountability and transparency between stakeholders, accountability to the State, donors and most importantly citizens, through implementation of evidence-based nutrition interventions that are integrated within a broad multi-sectoral collaboration framework whilst promoting nutrition storytelling and writing on local citizen feedback on satisfaction with the food and nutrition services rendered which will be commissioned from time-to-time to check on appropriateness of service coverage, quantity and quality,” said Mukora.
The programme, according to Mukora, will document the progress of nutrition interventions in the fight against malnutrition through equipping 30 young people (child policy makers, high school children and grassroots youth) in Bindura district with skills and knowledge on food and nutrition by September 2019.
This will increase bottom up accountability in the improvement of nutrition service and resource management at district level by engaging communities and get their feedback on satisfaction with food and nutrition services in the country.
The programme will enable children to take an active role in decision making around school nutrition programmes by developing child-friendly nutrition social marketing and advocacy tools for the schools and grassroots environment which will be used to harmonise tracking of results.
Consequently, the feedback will be incorporated into future nutrition programmes and to increase ownership through establishing and promoting routine nutrition information collection systems (social media tools) by end of 2019.
It thus become imperative for Government to partner various stakeholders in promoting and ensuring adequate food and nutrition security for all people at all times, particularly amongst the most vulnerable and in line with the country’s cultural norms and values and the concept of rebuilding and maintaining family dignity.
Food and nutrition security exists when all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for a healthy and productive life.
On the other hand, food and nutrition insecurity leads to the vicious cycle of malnutrition, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired mental and physical development, reduced productivity and poverty, resulting in compromised respectability and dignity.
Zimbabwe faces a growing level of chronic malnutrition which is exacerbated by food insecurity and deepening poverty. This challenge is certainly beyond the capacity of a single sector or agency to address, hence requires multi-sectoral interventions.
To this end, the Government has developed a National Nutrition Strategy (NNS) 2014-2018 whose main objective is to implement Commitment V (5) of the Food and Nutrition Security Policy (FSNP).
Commitment V (5) of the FNSP states that Government is committed to ensuring nutrition security for all through the implementation of evidence-based nutrition interventions that are integrated within a broad public health framework including health services, water and sanitation.
Further, the reconstitution of the food and nutrition security multi-stakeholders committees at ward, district and provincial levels will buttress the implementation of the National Nutrition Strategy.
The implementation of the strategy will require the participation and involvement of stakeholders at all levels from the community to the national level, including the public sector (line ministries, agencies and local government authorities), higher learning and training institutions, professional bodies, private sector, development partners, civil society, the media and the community at large.
Addressing issues of nutrition security should remain top on the agenda for the Government while it assumes primary responsibility for resource mobilisation and funding to complement efforts of development partners. The consequences of nutritional deficiencies and disorders are significant, so are the benefits of investing in efforts to address them.
There is strong international evidence that eliminating under-nutrition saves lives, prevents more than one-third of child deaths per year, and reduces the burden of disability for children under five by more than half.
The evidence from recent World Bank studies also shows that tackling under-nutrition will result in significant economic benefits both now and in the long term.
Productivity in agriculture, industry and other sectors will increase due to better health of the working population and this will contribute to an increase in gross national product (GNP) of between two percent and eight percent in Africa (and potentially further up to 11 percent in high burden countries).
These studies also show that reducing stunting will result in school attainment being increased by at least one year. The combination of higher levels of education and improved health of the workforce will result in an increase in lifetime wages of between five percent and 50 percent, hence a reduction in poverty.
Children who are not stunted are 33 percent more likely to escape poverty as adults. Stunted mothers are three times more likely to have malnourished infants.
In addition, women who are well-nourished as girls are 10 percent more likely to own their own business when they become adults. The negative effects of under-nutrition are compounded by those of overweight and obesity which are rising in Zimbabwe contributing to an increase in incidence of chronic and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
In Zimbabwe, 10,6 percent of the population is obese and the problem is worse among women in urban areas where 41 percent are overweight or obese, compared with 26 percent of rural women (ZDHS 2010/11).
In the country, obesity worsens with higher income levels. Obesity among people in the highest income quantile is four times that for the lowest quantile.
The human and economic consequences of the current micro-nutrient deficiencies in the Zimbabwean population are grave.
About 7 700 children and mothers are dying every year due to micro-nutrient deficiency (iron, vitamin A, zinc, and folic acid). Cognitive growth losses in children will debilitate about 900 000 of the current population of under-fives resulting in future productivity deficits equivalent to US$16 million in annual GDP.
In adults, productivity performance deficit is estimated to affect more than 500 000 workers, resulting in an estimated GDP deficiency of US$43 million annually.
Micro-nutrient deficiencies are also contributing to higher morbidity that is preventable, for instance about 3,5 million more cases of diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, low birth weight and birth defects which are estimated to cost the health system and families an additional US$4 million per annum.
RETZ will partner ministries of Agriculture, Education, Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Information and Publicity among other key relevant stakeholders in Bindura.
RETZ is a private non-political, non-profit organisation created in 2014 to respond to the needs of the Zimbabwean people. Its focus is to sustain, strengthen, and promote socio-economic freedoms as the yardstick for pursuing sustainable development.
RETZ was founded on the belief that communities have the knowledge, resources, and potential to grow ideas that determine their own sustainable development initiatives and therefore should be given the choice and freedom to pursue them.