Using indigenous knowledge systems to mitigate malnutrition
Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Writer
A majority of households in Binga survive on peasant farming, focusing on small grain crops due to the hot climatic conditions in the district. Should rainfall patterns fall short of the traditional average, most households fail to get meaningful yields that can sustain a decent meal on a daily basis.
Those with the courage to get into the mighty Zambezi River, earn a living from selling either fish or kapenta.
In times like these, communities are using indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) of traditional foods as a solution and copying mechanism to complement assistance coming from Government and development partners.
Binga district’s food insecurity status has been ranked among the highest in the country owing to effects of El Nino which Zimbabwe and the Southern Africa region is currently grappling with.
El Nino, is a temporary weather phenomenon causing shifting of weather patterns across the globe and largely droughts in Southern Africa.
“We did not harvest anything for the past four years because of the continued dry spell. Ordinarily, small grain crops do well in our area, which normally receive little rainfall, but for the past four years, we have been failing to get meaningful harvest even for the small grains,” said village head Koma Christmas Mumpande of village 3 in Kariangwe, under Chief Siansari.
As a result, communities have resorted to readily available foods such as wild vegetables and fruits in addition to food aid from well-wishers.
Moringa tree leaves, pumpkin leaves, sesame seeds, wild fruits, fresh and dried fish, rapoko and millet mealie meal constitute much of the options for a typical meal in rural Binga, most of which is readily available. On few occasions, eggs, chicken, beef, goat meat and maize meal also form a meal.
With education imparted to them through various activities spearheaded by development partners such as Save the Children, the Binga community has learnt of maintaining a balanced diet using indigenous knowledge of this readily available choice of foods.
Binga district administrator Mrs Lydia Banda-Ndethi concurred that the district had been hard hit by drought, indicating that some households might require food aid beyond the initially targeted February to May period.
“We gave people seed and fertiliser on time, but the rains where erratic resulting in poor yields. Usually, agricultural extension officers encourage small grain crops in this area and conservative agriculture. All this was done, but because of the erratic rains, all efforts went to waste,” said Mrs Banda-Ndethi.
Although she could not immediately give statistics on the affected households and the quantities required saying they were waiting for release of the latest Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac) report, to which they also made submissions as a district, indications are that the community will need food aid until the next harvest. Vulnerable communities are currently getting assistance from Government and other organisations such as Save the Children.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) for 2019 (period between February and May) compiled by the Food and Nutrition Council cited Binga as one of the four districts in the country whose food insecurity was classified as “emergency”. The other three are Mudzi, Buhera and Kariba.
Fifty districts were categorised in the “crisis” phase while eight were put in the “stressed” category.
According to the IPC classification, emergency and crisis phases required immediate food assistance as they have large food consumption gaps reflected through high acute malnutrition and other illnesses.
It further says, those mitigating these huge gaps are able to do so through either disposing of assets or employing emergency livelihood coping strategies. Results of the 2019 emergency nutrition assessment report conducted in 11 problematic districts, which include Binga also shows that food and security was one of the main contributing factors to malnutrition in Zimbabwe.
The report compiled by the Ministry of Health and Child Care shows that 25,5 percent of children under five years in Binga were stunted, 18,6 percent of whom had severe stunting. Stunting is impaired growth and development that children experience due to poor nutrition. The assessment report also shows that 4,2 percent were malnourished while 15,2 percent were underweight.
In line with Government’s recommendations to scale up nutrition interventions, including strengthening of community based specific strategies, Save the Children is working with different communities in Binga to uphold a four-star diet using readily available food choices.
A four-star diet comprises of four food groups that may be added in a different order to meet a balanced diet. These groups include, animal source foods such as meat, milk and eggs, staples such as maize, roots or tubers, legumes such as beans, lentils, peas or sesame seeds and foods rich in Vitamin A such fruits and vegetables.
“Most of our vegetables grow naturally. For example, Moringa leaves are very nutritious. It is a good source of vitamins and minerals. We also have sesame seeds which we use to prepare porridge.
“Sesame seeds are high in fibre, plant protein and B vitamins. We also have a number of wild fruits such as mawuyu (baobab), that we use to prepare porridge for children. It is very nutritious and a good source of energy,” said Mrs Priscilla Siansemba from Chinonge village who is also a village health worker.
“Here and there, we also have eggs, fish, and chicken. While we have maize meal, we also eat much of rapoko and millet which do well in our climate compared to maize.”
Mrs Siansemba said although most people didn’t harvest much rapoko or millet because of the drought, communities were buying from the few farmers who had a bit of harvest.
From time-to-time, they hold cooking demonstrations from which, they learn from each other how best to make use of locally available food choices as a sustainable coping mechanism to effects of drought.
According to Save the Children, the cooking demonstrations are part of the organisation’s behaviour change communication sessions held with young mothers and grandmothers. The organisation’s health and nutrition manager Mr Mthulisi Dube said the communication sessions are meant to encourage mothers and grandmothers of children below two years of age to embrace good nutritional practices.
“Sessions are held with them once a week and are held under the supervision and guidance of a ward nutrition coordinator from the Ministry of Health and Child Care. The sessions focus on topics such as breastfeeding, variety and frequency of feeding, complementary feeding, child caring practices, health seeking practices and successful child healthcare practices,” said Mr Dube.
The sessions also provide a platform for participants to share experiences and learn best practices from each other for sustained practices.
Apart from the behaviour change sessions, Save the Children also supports male involvement, traditional and religious leaders’ engagement, arts and culture sessions and community health clubs to promote and encourage nutritional practices.
Save the Children is also giving cash of up to US$45 a month to food insecure households in selected villages of Binga.