Targeted nutrition programmes a platform to uplift livelihoods Nutrition gardens provide incomes for communities and gives families an abundance of nutritious foods

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Health Buzz

As the 2024 Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment kicks off today, a crucial element takes centre stage: nutrition.

While the assessment aims to gauge overall well-being across the urban population, it would be prudent to focus on how this can influence the formulation of interventions that can address challenges that are being faced by the nation.

In line with the National Development Strategy 1, the assessment should bring about interventions to reduce food and nutrition insecurity, poverty and improve livelihoods among the vulnerable populations.

According to Food and Nutrition Council director general Dr George Kembo, this year’s assessment has a bias towards a nutrition based indicator, which reflects how the population’s access to a nutritious diet contributes to their improved livelihood. He said the urban livelihoods assessments done in the past had been instrumental in the shaping of some key interventions to challenges faced by the nation.

“These urban assessments have been influential in guiding Government as it plans strategies that are aimed to improve people’s lives and more importantly, as it also looks at options and strategies to create employment opportunities, be it direct or informal, for people to earn a living and improve their access to food,” said Dr Kembo.

Focusing on nutrition programmes holds immense potential to not only improve individual health but also unlock brighter livelihoods for countless Zimbabweans.

The story of Zimbabwe’s livelihoods is complex and multifaceted. While pockets of the population, particularly in rural areas, grapple with food insecurity and stunted growth, others, especially in urban settings, face the double burden of malnutrition and obesity.

This poses a significant challenge to overall well-being and economic development.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 26,7 percent of Zimbabwean adults are overweight, with 13,2 percent falling within the obese category. This significant rise, particularly in urban areas, is attributed to shifting dietary patterns, marked by the affordability and accessibility of processed foods high in sugar, fat, and salt, compared to fresh fruits and vegetables.

The 2022 Global Nutrition Report notes that Zimbabwe is on course to meet three targets for maternal, infant and young child nutrition (MIYCN). Some progress has been made towards achieving the target of reducing anaemia among women of reproductive age while no progress has been made towards achieving the low birth weight target, with 12,6 percent of infants having a low weight at birth.

The country is also on course to meet the target for stunting, with 23,5 percent of children under five years of age affected, which is lower than the average for the Africa region (30,7 percent).

However, the country is yet to make headway in meeting nutrition targets among adults.

“Zimbabwe has shown limited progress towards achieving the diet-related non-communicable disease (NCD) targets. 27,9 percent of adult (aged 18 years and over) women and 5,6 percent of adult men are living with obesity.

“Zimbabwe’s obesity prevalence is higher than the regional average of 20,8 percent for women but is lower than the regional average of 9,2 percent for men. At the same time, diabetes is estimated to affect 8,1 percent of adult women and 7,3 percent of adult men,” the report notes. The consequences of this situation being faced by Zimbabweans are far-reaching.

On one hand, obesity fuels chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, straining the healthcare system and costing lives. On the other hand, malnutrition hinders physical and cognitive development, perpetuating poverty cycles and impacting national productivity. By addressing both chronic under nutrition and the rising tide of obesity, the country can make way for improved livelihoods, resilience, and brighter futures for Zimbabweans.

Addressing this challenge requires going beyond simply ensuring food availability.

Nutritional security entails access to a balanced diet rich in all the essential micronutrients. This necessitates a multi-pronged approach targeting various aspects of the food system and individual behaviour.

Well-designed nutrition programmes have the potential to address this challenge head-on. By going beyond simply providing food, these programmes can empower communities to take charge of their health and livelihoods.

Community-based garden initiatives are blossoming across Zimbabwe, even in urban areas where they are transforming unproductive spaces into vibrant sources of fresh produce, income, and knowledge.

These programmes not only provide communities with nutritious food but also foster social cohesion, environmental consciousness, and entrepreneurial skills. The country also needs nutrition programmes that go beyond food distribution and incorporate nutrition education that empower individuals to make informed choices.

Equipping communities with the knowledge to select, prepare, and cook nutritious meals ensures the sustainability of healthy practices and creates a ripple effect of improved health and well-being across generations.

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to nutrition. Programmes that provide nutrition education across age groups can bridge the gap between food choices and their impact on health. Understanding the importance of micronutrients, balanced diets, and healthy cooking practices can lead to improved health outcomes and reduced vulnerability to illness.

Zimbabwe has already made inroads to invest in early childhood nutrition through school feeding programmes that are already being rolled out. While the programme is not yet reaching all school children across the country, it has gone a long way in addressing some of the challenges that have been contributing to the crisis of malnutrition and obesity.

Experts also say school gardens and meal programmes that prioritise locally-sourced, nutritious ingredients provide children with the fuel they need to learn and thrive.

They believe that partnering with families and communities to reinforce these healthy habits at home creates a supportive environment for sustained change.

But for any programme to be successful, it has to have support from various stakeholders, hence collaboration becomes key. Government, private sector, NGOs, and communities must therefore work hand-in-hand to design, implement, and monitor these programmes effectively. Community involvement is essential for ensuring programme ownership and sustainability. As the Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment gathers data, the incorporation of a strong focus on nutrition programmes is crucial. Understanding the existing programmes, their effectiveness, and gaps is key to tailoring future interventions to specific community needs.

This assessment provides a unique opportunity to identify best practices, highlight areas for improvement, and pave the way for evidence-based solutions. It will also present a valuable opportunity to identify the way forward, ensuring that nutrition becomes a cornerstone of building a healthier and more prosperous nation.

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