Spanish-language issues of Intersections

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Spanish-language issues of Intersections, beginning with summer 2016, are now available on the MCC U.S. website here.

PDF copies of the Spanish-language translations of past Intersections issues are available below. Please note that these are not complete translations of the English-language Intersections issues in their entirety.

Vol. 5, No. 1 – Invierno 2017 – Nutrición: más que sólo comida

Vol. 4, No. 4 – Otoño 2016 – La diferencia que hace la fe

Vol. 4, No. 3 – Verano 2016 – Protección de la niñez

Vol. 4, No. 2 – Primavera 2016 – Manejo de los recursos naturales basado en la comunidad

Vol. 4, No. 1 – Invierno 2016 – Asistencia alimentaria

Vol. 3, No. 4 – Otoño 2015 – Trauma y resiliencia

Vol. 3, No. 2 – Primavera 2015 – Participación

Vol. 2, No. 2 – Primavera 2014 – Incidencia desde la Base

Vol. 2, No. 1 – Invierno 2014 – Los Legados del Colonialismo

Vol. 1, No. 4 – Otoño 2013 – Justicia Restaurativa

Vol. 1, No. 3 – Verano 2013 – Violencia de Género

Vol. 1, No. 2 – Primavera 2013 – Gente en Movimiento

Vol. 1, No.1 – Invierno 2013 – ¿Donde está La Paz?

Gender- and culture-sensitive nutrition programming

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Nutrition programs often target groups most visibly linked to desired nutrition outcomes. For example, since nutrition is key to children’s development during their ‘1000 golden days’, mothers with young children or women of childbearing age tend to be targeted to promote good nutrition for infants. As other articles in this issue contend, though, a narrow participant focus may limit the impact of nutrition programs and ignore the role that other family members play. At the same time, looking only at broad, household-level indicators of nutrition may miss different household members’ unique vulnerabilities. Nutrition programs are more effective and relevant when they are sensitive to family power dynamics, local practices and culture. This article offers ideas for integrating gender and cultural context into planning, monitoring and evaluating nutrition programs. While these ideas are not exhaustive, they offer a starting point for thinking through gender and cultural issues that affect nutrition.

Look within the household

Sufficient, nutritious food available at the household level does not ensure that all members will have access to enough food to meet their dietary needs. Intra-household distribution of food, family decision-making systems and cultural practices and taboos mean that the nutritional status of family members within one household may be widely different. As Gurung and Ghimire observe in their article, women in some households in Nepal eat after other family members have had their fill, which can limit their access to preferred foods like meat or vegetables. Looking simply at whether the household unit has enough food would miss this kind of variation in access to nutritious food within the household.

Collecting gender- and age-disaggregated data on diets for each member of the household using tools such as the Household Dietary Diversity Score provides insight into the unique nutrition status of different family members. Alternatively, Lee and Hembroom in their article describe a project in Nepal that has started to collect data on the number of times women in participant households skip meals. Since women eat last in this cultural context, the number of meals skipped by this population will be a more sensitive indicator than the number of times the entire household skips meals.

Disaggregated data may also reveal needs among populations who are not always targeted in nutrition interventions. While pregnant and lactating women and young children are generally known to be vulnerable to malnutrition, other household members, like elderly members or adolescent girls, might also be receiving insufficient food or nutrients for their needs. For example, after the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, MCC worked with partner organization Shanti Nepal to distribute rations of ready-to-eat food that included nutritious and locally-sourced chiura (beaten rice flakes) and roasted lentils. However, while distributing these rations to highly-affected rural households in Dhading district, Shanti Nepal staff realized that young children and elderly people may lack the teeth necessary to eat such hard and crunchy food. They adapted the ration to include easier to eat instant noodles. For subsequent disaster responses, MCC and partners in Nepal have included a nutritious porridge flour mix in the emergency rations intended for young children and elderly people.

Identify decision-makers and agents of change

When planning projects, analyzing family systems and power dynamics within a household can help identify gatekeepers and potential agents of change. Nutrition programs often focus on health and agriculture activities, but addressing household power dynamics within family relationships and organizing anti-domestic violence activities can also lead to better nutrition outcomes. In Nepal, newly married women traditionally move into their husband’s family home and often take on a large portion of household duties. Mothers-in-law make decisions about their daughters-in-law’s work and also often have strong ideas about food taboos in pregnancy or for young children.

An MCC-supported project run through partner organization Sansthagat Bikas Sanjal and implemented by Interdependent Society in Surkhet district facilitates discussions between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law and between husbands and wives. These discussions encourage shared understandings about good nutrition practices and provide opportunities to discuss family relationships. By encouraging shared knowledge about nutrition and by improving communication, the family members who make household decisions about money, household duties and food can work together toward improving nutrition for all family members. This project has reported that after these discussions mothers-in-law and husbands have started providing support to pregnant and lactating women by recognizing their specific nutrition needs, encouraging health check-ups and reducing their household workload. As noted in the article by Gurung and Ghimire, other projects in Nepal have also successfully engaged male family members to encourage better household nutrition practices.

Some family members may be better able to promote changed household practices than others. As Rahaman and Rahman point out in their article, identifying agents of change within a household, like students in Bangladesh, smoothes the process of change. In this case, project implementers found that parents who were reluctant to try new agricultural techniques themselves were willing to support and learn from their children, which led to diversified livelihoods and diets for participant households. Similarly, Climenhage notes that in Labrador, Canada, the Community Food Hub’s children’s garden is one of its most successful programs, working through students to promote healthy eating at home. Meanwhile Sarker and Rahman examine in their article how women’s heavy investment in the long-term good of the household led the monga mitigation project to select women as primary participants in asset transfers and project trainings.

Decide what to accept

Identifying cultural practices that affect nutrition also requires analysis of when to encourage different practices and when to simply offer alternatives that achieve the same nutrition outcomes. It may be a slow process to change the cultural perception in Nepal that pregnant women should not eat Vitamin A-rich papaya because of fears that it will cause miscarriage. Ultimately it may be more effective to promote carrots or eggs as alternate sources of Vitamin A that do not come with cultural taboos attached. Perhaps a comparable example is the idea that North Americans could consume less red meat if they started eating insects as a healthier and more sustainable protein option. In many cultures, insects are commonly eaten as snack foods. However, because of many North Americans’ revulsion at the thought of eating insects, a nutrition project that promotes beans and legumes as a substitute for red meat is likely to be more successful. Similarly, Wade and Yameogo observe in their article that the success of integrating moringa into diets in rural Burkina Faso links with the traditional practice of consuming moringa as a healthful medicinal plant and with the project’s demonstrations of how it can be adapted into traditional foods.

Gender- and culture-sensitive nutrition programing requires intensive analysis of family systems, intra-household power dynamics and awareness of taboos and cultural practices related to food consumption. Food insecurity affects communities, households and family members in diverse ways, requiring project approaches that recognize and build on the local context in order to address malnutrition successfully. Deep knowledge of the local community’s culture, traditions, eating habits and practices is essential and requires careful attention at all stages of a project. Such knowledge is often most accessible to those with close community ties. A community-driven approach that builds on the existing knowledge of local organizations and their relationships with community members can help navigate societal and cultural complexities and ultimately lead to better nutrition outcomes for all people in a community.

Martha Kimmel is MCC Nepal food security advisor. Leah Reesor-Keller is MCC Nepal co-representative.

Learn more

Madjdian, Dónya S. and Hilde A.J. Bras. “Family, Gender, and Women’s Nutritional Status: A Comparison between Two Himalayan Communities in Nepal.” Economic History of Developing Regions 31/1 (2016): 198-223.

Promoting local food sources to improve nutrition

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In many countries across Africa and Asia, communities use the bark and roots of the hardy moringa tree for medicinal purposes. Over the past several years, however, MCC and its partners in Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, India and Lao PDR have been promoting moringa leaves as a readily available, locally sourced and nutrient-rich food that is drought resistant and adaptable to changing climates. This article examines how MCC’s main partner organization in Burkina Faso, the Protestant ecumenical social service organization ODE (Office de Développement des Eglises Evangéliques), educates Burkinabé about the rich nutritional properties of moringa leaves as part of its overarching nutrition strategies in a country facing food insecurity exacerbated by climate change. ODE’s experience with promoting moringa leaves underscores the importance of looking to nutrient-rich, local food sources adaptable to changing climates in efforts to combat malnutrition.

Food insecurity and malnutrition rates in Burkina Faso are chronically high. The global acute malnutrition rate (GAM) among children under five years of age is 8.2%, while stunting levels stand at 31.5%. High food prices and unpredictable weather can result in drought or flooding, further limiting Burkina Faso’s access to food.

Over the past 30 years in Burkina Faso the climate has changed dramatically, making it increasingly difficult for farmers to predict the planting and harvest seasons. These changing climate patterns have in turn contributed (alongside other factors) to acute food insecurity. Arouna Yameogo, responsible for sustainable agriculture projects with ODE, recalls a time when the planting season would begin in June and end in December, resulting in a six month farming season. Today some parts of Burkina Faso see only two or three months of rain per year. Instead of steady, slow rains that nourish and provide moisture to the new crops, torrential storms now flood fields and ruin crops. Intermittent, moderate rains that alternate with a dry season are becoming things of the past. Meanwhile, the Sahel (the semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert) expands steadily southward, encroaching on Burkina Faso.

While these challenges to the agricultural sector exacerbate food insecurity and malnutrition, MCC and ODE see promise in the leaves of the moringa tree. Originally from northern India, moringa spread to various parts of Asia and Africa over the past thousand years. Nicknamed the “miracle tree” and the “never die” tree, moringa thrives in many different countries and varying climates. While moringa branches, seeds, pods and roots have been used in traditional remedies for ailments ranging from high blood pressure to stomach pain, the tree has not historically been viewed as a food source. Yet moringa, resistant to drought and flood, is able to weather changing climates, while also bearing the potential to combat malnutrition with its 16 vitamins and minerals and high levels of protein, potassium and calcium.

Yameogo and his colleagues at ODE provide support to farmers cultivating moringa to establish nurseries and have distributed moringa seedlings purchased from those farmers to hundreds of other farmers. Alongside efforts to promote the cultivation of moringa, ODE organizes trainings to educate communities about the nutritional value of moringa leaves and cooking demonstrations to show how those leaves can be used in and adapted for traditional dishes. “Moringa has grown in Burkina for quite some time, but people didn’t know about it or how to use it,” Yameogo explains. “Now we’ve had trainings to show the different nutritional qualities of moringa. It can prevent many sicknesses and can also fight against hunger because it has many vitamins and nutritional qualities. So now in the villages, we train people on the utility of moringa, and people use it all the time. We also train women how to make a powder from the leaves to put in porridge or in sauces. People are beginning to understand the importance of moringa.”

Community education on the use of moringa begins with awareness meetings since educating people about moringa’s nutritional properties is the first step in achieving wider adoption of moringa, with cooking classes showing how moringa leaves can be part of a daily, healthy diet. Participants in these trainings are not immediately convinced of moringa’s benefits or of its adaptability to local tastes. ODE has found, however, that participants gradually become used to adding moringa powder or leaves to everything from sauce to rice and even to eating boiled moringa leaves alone like spinach. One participant, for example, mixes moringa’s coin-sized leaves right into the peanut sauce she cooks with cabbage and tomatoes and serves over rice or , a thick, cornmeal-based mash common to Burkina Faso.

Since ODE began its projects, knowledge about and use of moringa have steadily increased in Burkina Faso. Although training and education are necessary to convince farmers that moringa is an economically viable crop and to persuade families that moringa leaves can be integrated into their diets, moringa is quickly becoming a valuable resource in efforts to combat malnutrition, both in Burkina Faso and beyond. Funding from MCC’s accounts at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) and the Foods Resource Bank (FRB) has enabled MCC and its partners to expand promotion of moringa as a nutrient-rich food source in multiple contexts. So, for example, MCC partners in Kenya and India raise awareness at the village level of moringa’s nutritional properties. In Zambia, meanwhile, MCC partners promote moringa consumption as part of efforts to strengthen the immune systems of people living with HIV and AIDS. By itself, of course, moringa will not solve food insecurity and malnutrition challenges. Yet, as ODE’s experience suggests, leaves from the moringa tree can play a vital role in addressing malnutrition in contexts in which agriculture is being disrupted by changing climate patterns.

Lauren Wade was an intern with MCC Burkina Faso in summer 2016. Arouna Yameogo is a project manager at Office de Développement des Eglises Evangéliques.

Learn more

Nielsen, Jonas Østergaard and Anette Reenberg. “Cultural Barriers to Climate Change Adaptation: A Case Study from Northern Burkina Faso.” Global Environmental Change 20/1 (2010): 142-152.

Durst, Patrick and Nomindelger Bayasgalanbat. Eds. Promotion of Underutilized Indigenous Food Resources for Food Security and Nutrition in Asia and the Pacific. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 2014.

Hughes, J. “Just Famine Foods? What Contributions Can Underutilized Plants Make to Food Security?” International Symposium on Underutilized Plants for Food Security, Nutrition, Income and Sustainable Development. Acta Horticulturae 806 (2009).

Improving access to fresh food in Labrador

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Labrador is much like the rest of Canada’s north. Indigenous peoples have hunted, fished and raised their families on these lands for generations. The land has suffered from the impacts of colonization, as have its people. Resource extraction has changed the face of the land. Rivers have been diverted, habitat has been lost, causing a shift in migratory patterns of the caribou, and increased levels of methylmercury continue to affect fish and sea life in the Mishtashipu, now officially called the Churchill River, more than 40 years after the construction of the first hydroelectric project. Depletion of the caribou herds has resulted in a complete hunting ban and the government also places restrictions on hunting migratory birds and fish. In Labrador, gaining access to fresh, healthy and culturally appropriate food is more and more difficult each year. Yet in face of these challenges indigenous communities mobilize to address food and nutrition needs.

“No more than one a week to eat from the river,” Innu elder, Elizabeth Penashue, told me as we sat next to the Mishtashipu and talked about the pollution in the river. Only one rusted sign outside the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay warns people to limit consumption of fish caught in the river due to pollution. Penashue thinks there should be more warnings.

Access to quality, fresh food is a challenge in Labrador. Because of the area’s remoteness, shipping is expensive and can be slow. Walking into grocery stores in the winter and finding bare shelves is not unusual. Depending on the weather, that happens in the coastal communities throughout the summer, too. The cost of food is so high that people often eat cheaper, less nutritious and more processed foods just to help make ends meet.

The Community Food Hub, based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, began in 2008 as a community project initiated by the local health authority and has grown into its own non-profit organization offering food education and programming in Labrador. An estimated 80% of the people served by the Community Food Hub identify as indigenous. The hub aims to address the community’s lack of healthy and culturally appropriate foods. MCC began a formal partnership with the Community Food Hub in 2012, when the food hub’s need for a part-time food security coordinator to complement and focus volunteer efforts became evident.

Currently the Community Food Hub facilitates several different programs. The hub’s children’s garden, in which an average of 190 students from two schools participate annually, is one of the hub’s most successful programs. The garden offers an opportunity for students in grades 4 and 5 to plant, care for, harvest and cook their own foods. Students have tried new vegetables, participated in the hard work of garden maintenance and cared for plants at home. Parents are also involved, and many have reported eating new foods and growing vegetables at home as a result of the program.

Community kitchens are another way of engaging the community. Focusing on low income families, the community kitchens provide opportunities for men and women to learn how to make low cost, healthy meals with others. Participants cook and eat together, after which they take the ingredients home to replicate the meal for their families. One of the surprising outcomes of this program is the online community-building it has facilitated. Members of the group share recipes, stories and pictures of their creations with one another, encouraging community.

The Community Food Hub works closely with the local agricultural association, ensuring that information about locally grown foods gets into the hands of shoppers. A community outdoor market program was started by the hub in 2013 in cooperation with the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the agricultural association. Farmers were invited every Saturday between July and September to join the market. The market also showcased locally made goods and offered fair trade coffee. Workshops on food preservation and wild food gathering were presented, along with demonstrations and trainings to encourage local gardening. In 2015, the Community Outdoor Market ceased being a program of the hub and continues successfully under the guidance of community volunteers. The hub nevertheless remains engaged with the market, setting up healthy eating and living displays at the market each week.

Initially, the hub began a community freezer project, hoping to provide food from the land gathered by local volunteers, such as fish, wild game and berries, to people who unable to hunt and gather on their own. It started with some exciting donations, like moose and caribou meat. However, due to reduced hunting quotas and people needing to save their catch for their own consumption in the winter, food donations were limited and the project ended. A similar project run by the Nunatsiavut Government is still available for seniors and shut-ins when food is able to be harvested or donated for distribution.

The challenges of food security continue to increase. Today, another large infrastructure project, the Lower Churchill Hydroelectric (or Muskrat Falls) Dam, threatens the health of the waters and way of life for the people who live in central and eastern Labrador. All three indigenous groups in the area (the Nunatsiavut, NunatuKavut and Innu nations), have come together to demand either the clearing of vegetation in the new reservoir in order to reduce imminent methylmercury poisoning and perhaps even to stop the dam completely. While the Community Food Hub is not directly involved in protesting, it does organize educational events to raise awareness about the effects of methylmercury in the local food system.

Food security and nutrition challenges have no easy answer in the North. Increasing access to fresh, local food from community gardens, children’s gardens and farmers’ markets can generally happen only in July, August and September. Freezing and canning meat and produce can help bridge the gap, but the winter period when food cannot be locally produced is long. Freezing and canning food is also expensive compared to the alternative of buying processed food during the winter months. Long term solutions are needed, but, for now, the Community Food Hub offers a partial solution with its ongoing focus on education to help people learn how to make healthier choices with available resources.

Dianne Climenhage is an MCC representative for Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Learn more

 Council of Canadian Academies. Aboriginal Food Security in Northern Canada: An Assessment of the State of Knowledge. Ottawa: The Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada, Council of Canadian Academies, 2014.

Islam, Durdana and Fikret Berkes. “Indigenous Peoples’ Fisheries and Food Security: A Case from Northern Canada.” Food Security 8/4 (2016): 815-826.

Engaging students for family food security and nutrition

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

As a small country with a large and rapidly growing population, Bangladesh has to make the most of its fast-disappearing agricultural land. Although the government of Bangladesh prioritizes modern and sustainable agricultural technologies to maximize crop production, many farmers’ beliefs in traditional agriculture methods, despite poor production, make them resistant to using new practices that improve production. Resistance to using improved agricultural practices that promote higher production has been a significant factor in food insufficiency and poor nutrition in rural Bangladesh, especially among land-poor farmers. This article explores how MCC Bangladesh has worked with young students to increase the adoption of new, more productive, agricultural practices.

MCC assists families experiencing poverty to increase their income from agriculture and livestock production and their access to diversified food in order to improve food security and nutrition. Encouraging farmers to shift from traditional techniques to new agricultural practices is not easy, especially among those who are older and have lower levels of formal education. MCC Bangladesh has found that young and literate farmers are generally more willing to try new techniques.

In particular, students are often willing to adopt new ideas. In Bangladesh, students are also often part of household decision-making. Despite limited financial resources, most poor families try hard to send their children to school. Families hope that, after gaining an education, their children will be able to improve the family’s financial status. For this reason, families sometimes depend on their children to make household decisions even while the children are still studying. This cultural context led MCC Bangladesh to involve students in a food security project focused on using modern agricultural techniques for improved family food security and nutrition.

Under its Research and Extension Activity Partners (REAP) project which ran from 2010 to 2016, MCC Bangladesh worked in Chattra Union, Pirganj Upazila in Rangpur district, Bangladesh. A total of 900 students in grade eight from six different secondary schools were selected as a primary participants. These students took part in the project up to grade ten. Each project year, new students were selected to join, with priority given to students from households experiencing poverty. These students received training in different agricultural technologies at school outside of regular class time, with technical support provided by MCC Bangladesh staff. The project also trained school teachers in agricultural technologies to improve their understanding of the project and to equip them to support their students.

At home, students discussed what they learned about these new technologies with their parents and other family members. When their parents expressed interest, MCC Bangladesh staff arranged for demonstrations of different agricultural technologies at their homestead. These agricultural demonstrations focused on best practices for rearing milk cows and goats, calf fattening, raising chickens, fruit tree cultivation, integrated pest management and making different types of compost for homestead gardening. Each household worked with at least two or three new techniques, with the entire family involved. MCC Bangladesh staff and the school teachers frequently visited participant students’ homes to monitor and discuss the new agricultural activities.

Students’ motivation encouraged households to focus their work on these new agricultural activities. Significant changes to nutrition occurred among the selected farm families over the project period. Families’ diversified agricultural activities provided them with more fresh vegetables of greater variety, more eggs and meat, more milk and more income from new agricultural activities like cattle rearing. With the extra income, families could afford to diversify their diets while meeting other family needs as well.

Some students have been particularly successful in generating income through the new agricultural activities. For example, one young woman in Sokhipur village received training in vegetable cultivation, cattle and goat rearing and compost production. MCC also provided her material support so that she could start raising goats and making compost. Now, besides being a respected source of agricultural knowledge in her community, she sells goats and compost to pay tuition fees for herself and her three sisters and has further expanded her family’s livelihoods by purchasing two cows.

In addition to agricultural work, the REAP project also provided peace education to targeted students and parents. These trainings, alongside other community peacebuilding work, helped ensure that conflicts that might arise from students teaching parents and encouraging new practices at home could be peaceably mediated and resolved.

Through this project, MCC Bangladesh learned that involving students in extension work to diversify agricultural activities addressed the challenge of motivating farmers to adopt new techniques. Through the work of students to improve families’ skills and capacity, parents were motivated to try modern agricultural practices, while students gained additional skills and knowledge. Ultimately, the combination of approaching parents through students and setting up demonstration plots on families’ own homesteads ensured sustainable changes to food security and nutrition due to changes in participants’ knowledge, attitude and practice.

Md. Arefur Rahaman is sector coordinator for food security and Md. Mokhlesur Rahman is program director with MCC Bangladesh.

Learn more

Quasem, M. A. “Conversion of Agricultural Land to Non-Agricultural Uses in Bangladesh: Extent and Determinants.” Bangladesh Development Studies 34/1 (2011): 59-85.

Ballantyne, Roy, Sharon Connell, and John Fien. “Students as Catalysts of Environmental Change: A Framework for Researching Intergenerational Influence through Environmental Education.” Environmental Education Research 4/3 (1998): 285-298.

A holistic approach to sustainable nutrition

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The term monga describes seasonal food insecurity that affects vulnerable landless labourers in northern Bangladesh as a result of decreased employment opportunities for the rural poor between rice planting and harvesting seasons. The monga season also negatively affects household nutrition. During this time, households generally reduce food consumption to one meal or less per day, with a corresponding decline in diet quality. People consume insufficient quantities of milk, eggs and vegetables. Most households report using credit to purchase food. Poor and extremely poor households report that they experience eight to ten months of food insecurity annually. In this article we examine learnings from a ten-year MCC initiative in northern Bangladesh to improve household food security and nutrition through regular seasonal food transfers, livestock promotion, connections to markets and nutrition education.

A holistic approach to promote sustainable alternative livelihood options was required to combat such a deeply rooted and persistent problem. To address this situation, MCC Bangladesh, with funding from MCC’s account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), implemented the Monga Mitigation Project from 2006 to 2016, working with 2,500 households. The project focused on increasing households’ livestock assets and improving participants’ knowledge and practice of livestock management. MCC chose this approach because participant households had little or no agricultural land, but did possess some experience with livestock management. The first phase of the project experimented with a variety of asset transfers, from chickens and goats to different cow breeds. Through action research, we found that hybrid dairy cows were the most appropriate asset for promotion, given the good market for milk in Bangladesh. The project also worked to educate participants about caring for these livestock and to establish complementary services through the training of veterinary service providers. While these services were free at first, over the course of the project participants gradually took on the costs of these services themselves. MCC also encouraged participants to access government services and to form good relationships with other private service providers like para-vets and fodder stores.

Scarcity of fodder and high prices of cattle feed made it difficult for poor families to bear the feeding expenses of rearing cattle. At the beginning of the project, the project only supported its targeted participants leasing land for fodder cultivation, including Napier grass. However, when most of the land owners did not renew the land leases, MCC shifted focus to supporting other community members involved in selling and marketing fodder grass in order to increase the availability of fodder for participants’ cows. By the end of the project, the area of fodder land had expanded through newly created businesses in the project area and participants reported easier access to fodder for their livestock.

The monga project also focused on increasing the long-term sustainability and productivity of assets by developing value chain linkages. The severe milk shortage in Bangladesh, coupled with high levels of unmet demand from both consumers and dairy processors, made dairy cows a highly appropriate asset for promotion. Therefore, in its second phase, the monga project worked to develop linkages with milk chillers so that the participants could sell their milk upmarket and increase their income. Although this proved challenging to implement, ultimately it increased income among participants. Connections with milk chillers meant that milk could be sold in the city for a higher price rather than just in the local community.

Besides long-term support aimed at increasing household income, the project also addressed immediate nutritional needs during the monga season. For instance, MCC provided lentils during the monga period to meet basic protein nutritional requirements and distributed fruit saplings and vegetable seeds for planting, the produce of which could be harvested during the monga season. Participant households received training in improved nutrition practices, including complementary feeding, exclusive breastfeeding and improved dietary diversification.

The project did encounter problems due to high poverty and illiteracy rates among participants. Given the acute seasonal food insecurity faced by participants, there was temptation to liquidate assets, and providing technical knowledge was difficult at times. To overcome these issues, MCC staff continuously encouraged participants to consider the ultimate goal of increasing their assets over the long-term. MCC also gave high priority to incorporating participants’ perspectives of community needs when designing and implementing the project. For example, MCC scheduled trainings, especially targeted at women, outside of planting and harvesting periods when participants could join. MCC staff reported back to participants on the project’s progress, with project activities modified based on participant feedback. So, for example, after one feedback loop MCC increased the quality of mustard oil cake distributed for livestock feed.

After ten years of MCC implementing this project, participants who used to be monga-affected now have assets that increase their self-confidence, income and food security, leading to improved household nutrition. Income from livestock production has improved participants’ daily life and economic status: the project end survey showed an average 300% increase in income over the income levels recorded in the baseline survey. Income sources include selling vegetables, livestock and livestock products like milk and dried dung for fuel. Improved income has had positive effects, including on participant households’ access to education, medical treatment and even land for agriculture and housing.

More secure livelihoods and earning opportunities have also improved households’ stable access to food, ultimately improving nutrition. The project’s final survey found zero months of food insecurity, compared with eight to ten months of food insecurity before the project started. Additionally, participants reported notable improvements in eating more food (meals and calories) of better quality, including higher consumption rates of a protein-rich diet. The integrated approach of diversifying livelihoods to increase income, increasing homestead production and providing nutrition training and continual motivation has had a positive impact on household nutrition.

Additionally, the project targeted women as direct participants in trainings and as legal livestock asset holders. Women were targeted because they are highly invested in care for their families, so they were considered more likely to use project inputs for the long-term good of the household. This targeting improved women’s power in household decision-making and increased their control over resources.

The project always considered the sustainability of community development by working to improve participant capacity to rear livestock without project support. MCC trained participants to cope with challenges as they arose, gradually withdrew project support and linked participants with alternate sources of most essential project services: these strategies prepared project participants to continue rearing livestock when project services ended. The project also worked to set up strong bonds within the community by implementing events designed to help community members support each other.

Providing encouragement to participants, appropriate selection of participants and holistic nurturing of assets and services to increase sustainable income were key to overcoming the persistence of the monga season. Long-term planning and holistic intervention are necessary to bring about sustainable changes in any sector. Rather than simply distributing livestock, this project supported value chain linkages and complementary service to farmers and families to sustain new assets. All of the project activities worked together to help improve participants’ food security and nutrition and develop new agricultural livelihoods to sustain those positive changes.

Md. Shahjahan Ali Sarker is a program officer and Md. Mokhlesur Rahman is program director with MCC in Bangladesh.

Learn more

CARE Bangladesh. Pro-Poor Analysis of the Dairy Value Chain. Dhaka: CARE Bangladesh, 2008. Available at www.carebangladesh.org/publication/Publication_6751088.pdf.

Rao, C.K. and Puis Odermatt. Value Chain Analysis Report on the Milk Market in Bangladesh. Dhaka: Livelihoods, Empowerment and Agroforestry Project (LEAF), 2006. Available at www.scribd.com/doc/28847769/Bangladesh-Milk-Market-LEAF.

Mother’s education as a predictor of child malnutrition in Nepal

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Many people assume that household food insecurity is the main driving force behind childhood malnutrition and stunting. Simply put, the common assumption is that children are underweight because their families lack access to sufficient amounts of healthy food. However, a research study conducted by the Brethren in Community Welfare Society (BICWS) in the southern plains region of Nepal on the socioeconomic and cultural barriers to good nutrition found a more complicated picture. The study’s findings imply that while improving household food security may be necessary, it alone is insufficient to improve the nutritional status of children. The results suggest that malnutrition and stunting in this context are the result of interconnecting socioeconomic, educational and health-care factors. This study, alongside other research, suggests that an integrated strategy that improves the overall socioeconomic well-being of families, maternal education and knowledge of infant and young child feeding practices will be more effective and sustainable in improving the nutrition of children living in poverty.

BICWS operates as the service arm of the Brethren in Christ church conference in Nepal, based in the southeastern city of Biratnagar. Since many families in BICWS’ working area are rural landless households facing malnutrition, BICWS and MCC worked together to develop a food security project funded by MCC’s account at the Foods Resource Bank that included supplementary food for malnourished children as one of the project components, coupled with kitchen gardening and support for commercial vegetable and fish production.

Despite the short-term effectiveness of the supplementary food seen in many of the project participants, some malnourished children showed inadequate growth over the year of nutrition support, necessitating their re-enrollment for another year. BICWS conducted a research project in 2015 aimed at discovering the socioeconomic and cultural barriers and risk factors to healthy childhood development and recovery. The study involved in-depth interviews with participant households whose children did not recover from malnutrition and with participant households whose children recovered quickly.

The results of the study suggest that the initial hypothesis of food insecurity as the main driving force behind childhood malnutrition holds true, though only for the most extreme cases of households experiencing poverty and debt. It stands to reason that significant debt and related financial insecurity are major risk factors for childhood malnutrition. Families burdened by large debt payments have little or no financial security during periods of stressors, such as strikes, illnesses or disasters. In 2015 Nepal underwent a number of concurrent stressors, including a devastating earthquake, nationwide political unrest, strikes and an economic blockade from India. Health was one of the first things to deteriorate. Instead of a significant drop in caloric intake, affected families chose instead to drop many types of nutritious foods while keeping the amount of food consumed the same. Lack of dietary diversity contributes to malnutrition. While 80% of interviewed families stated that they normally had enough money for food, only 36% of families consumed the minimum daily nutrition requirements, showing a large gap between perceived food sufficiency and actual nutrient sufficiency.

For the non-extreme cases of malnutrition, however, the study discovered that the low level of mother’s educational attainment was connected with the incidence of malnutrition in children. That is, in families where the mother was more educated, children exhibited fast recovery. Other research projects in Nepal support this finding. This result suggests that women’s low educational attainment is linked to community malnutrition and that encouraging education is a strong potential long-term solution.

Nutrition-specific knowledge is also important. The study found that even some educated women lacked knowledge about health care, nutrition and sanitation. Lack of knowledge limited their application of good nutrition practice. However, BICWS found that educated women were more likely to take ownership of supplemental food received and to practice new nutrition skills than women with lower educational levels, despite the fact that both educated and uneducated women demonstrated low levels of nutritional knowledge before the project started. It makes sense that women’s education is likely to have an impact on family nutritional status, given the fact that in this community women normally serve as the center of the nuclear family and generally decide on and prepare daily meals. In response to these findings, BICWS has implemented a new strategy aimed at reaching three thousand households with nutritional education, equipping families (in particular women) with the knowledge of what nutritional strategies contribute to healthy development and overall well-being.

The BICWS research suggests that women’s education can be a cushion against stressors that lead to poverty and malnutrition. Women’s education and empowerment must be emphasized, especially as women in rural Nepal are often marginalized, with limited access to education and authority. Any long-term plan for community improvement should consider increasing women’s access to education as a key strategy. At the very minimum, this study suggests that nutritional education should be emphasized in any population suffering from malnutrition.

Derek Lee was on a SALT assignment with BICWS in 2015-16. Shemlal Hembrom is the program director of BICWS and General Secretary of BIC Nepal.

Learn more

Dhungana, Govinda Prasad. “Nutritional Status of Under 5 Children and Associated Factors of Kunchha Village Development Committee.” Journal of Chitwan Medical College 3/4 (January 2014): 38–42.

Osei, Akoto, Pooja Pandey, David Spiro, Jennifer Nielson, Ram Shrestha, Zaman Talukder, Victoria Quinn and Nancy Haselow “Household Food Insecurity and Nutritional Status of Children Aged 6 to 23 Months in Kailali District of Nepal.” Food and Nutrition Bulletin 31/4 (December 2010): 483–94.

Singh, G.C. Pramood, Manju Nair, Ruth B. Gruibesic and Frederick Connell. “Factors Associated with Underweight and Stunting among Children in Rural Terai of Eastern Nepal.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health/Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health 21/2 (April 2009): 144–52.