by Fiona O’Brien
With 805 million people worldwide living without enough food to lead a healthy active lifestyle and nearly half of all deaths in children under five caused by poor nutrition, there is no doubt that there is still a global food crisis in the 21st century.
Astonishingly, this equates to one child dying every 10 seconds, and a further 165 million children, or one in four worldwide, are left stunted by lack of food. These children have substantially lower chances of survival and their ability to grow and learn is permanently damaged. By the time a child is two years old the effects of malnutrition are irreversible.
The work undertaken by Ireland’s largest aid and humanitarian agency; Concern Worldwide, is crucial in addressing this plight, and with World Food Day falling on October 16 Concern’s recently launched Hunger Stops Here appeal is never more relevant.
It is run in partnership with the UK Department for International Development, and the fundamental benefit of the appeal is matched giving, in which the government will equal every pound donated by the UK public to effectively double each donation until December 14.
This matched funding means that the public can donate with the knowledge that they can double the impact made in the fight against hunger.
But where does the money go? Concern work with women like Monica Malunda, from rural Zambia, who used to struggle to provide three meals a day for her children, and when she did they rarely contained the nutrients vital to their healthy growth.
They would eat nshima, made from Zambia’s staple crop maize and water, which has very little nutritional content.
Concern has been working to implement long-term measures that will help generations of families incorporate good nutrition practices in the country.
Danny Harvey, Country Director of Concern Zambia, has seen the difference their involvement has made over the past 18 months.
She notes that it is not just a shortage of food that is the problem, but cultural issues, gender inequality and lack of education that has contributed to the crisis.
“In Zambia, it is the woman of the household who is culturally responsible in providing food for the family, and the income of the male in the house becomes irrelevant. Over 40 per cent of the agricultural workforce is comprised of women,” she says.
“We work with pregnant women, and women who may not have even fallen pregnant yet. If a baby is born malnourished, he or she is already on the back foot and it is very hard to change.
“Maize is the country’s staple grain, it even appears on the national flag, so some of our work has been re-educating the public on its appeal as a food source.”
Danny heads a team of 55 aid workers and community health volunteers and smallholder model farmers who provide continuing agriculture and nutrition training to groups of 15-20 women.
This training covers agricultural practices that boost yields, including how to use organic manure, best practices for integrated pest management and how to rear small livestock.
One of the biggest forms of this is the ‘pass-on’ scheme which facilitates livestock distribution. Each smallholder model farmer is given a male and a female goat, with a third of the group members presented with a female goat.
In a ceremonial type regime, each woman then passes on the female offspring to other members of the group.
“Traditionally, a goat is seen as a male possession as is either sold when instant money is needed or killed for meat. But the idea here is to provide a long-term benefit, as the goats have provided the children with essential nutrients from the milk.”
“The only thing is that the passing on of offspring can only be done at the rate of goat reproduction, so it takes some time. For obvious reasons we were considering rabbits, but it is not as culturally acceptable, and wouldn’t have provided the all-important milk!”
She says that the establishment of such groups has led to a greater sense of community amongst the women, who are sharing the benefits of improved agricultural practices.
“We also link them up with external markets so they can sell vegetables that they grow, and obviously teaming up means that they will get more income from people wanting to bulk buy.
“This has heightened to a very strong sense of group identity and has in turn improved their marketing skills.”
Monica’s farming training, combined with receiving seeds and livestock, has meant she has been able to provide a varied diet for her children including tomatoes, carrots, green beans, rapeseed, okra and sweet potato.
“I’ve learnt a lot about nutrition. I know more about how to grow food and have food throughout the year,” she says.
“The children’s performance at school is better. They now leave home in the morning with a full stomach.”
Danny feels this indication that Concern has helped to fulfil traditional female responsibilities is paramount to the changes she has witnessed during her time in Zambia.
“Since 2011, there is more food, there is better food but strikingly the women have more confidence. They are making decisions which are improving the nutrition of their families and they feel more empowered as a consequence.
“It is proven that when you address gender inequality that the nutrition of children improves, and that is what this is all about. But there needs to be more of a female presence in government to address this further.”
The RAIN project works to optimise the population’s nutritional knowledge, including diversifying diets, breastfeeding and the utilisation of healthcare services.
Strong evidence shows that to reduce the prevalence of stunting, chronic malnutrition must be prevented, not just ‘treated’, during the critical 1000 days period from conception up until two years of age.
The project is working with some of the poorest and most vulnerable children and pregnant/lactating women in Mumbwa District. Concern directly supports 3,480 extreme poor households with household-level agricultural interventions focused on dietary diversification. Half of those beneficiaries will also receive nutrition/health interventions focused on behaviour change communication.
The project also works with the males within the communities and provides them with material on behavioural change so they can adapt the way they see certain traditions and belief about society-led gender roles.
These messages promote increased female decision making and equality in farming and childcare duties as men and boys become engaged in supporting women in their household duties.
Although Concern gets government funding, Danny emphasises the importance of public fundraising.
“It is partially the local government’s responsibility to provide water, but their principle concern is to provide drinkable water. This creates challenges for us as, obviously, it is essential to have water access for farming and to maintain the work we have done in improving nutrition.
“When we seek funding from our western governments we need to go to them with official statistics on how our projects have worked, which means that we cannot go with these more unusual and experimental plans.
“Public funding has underpinned our RAIN work, and given us much more flexibility year on year, but more needs to be done.
“We won’t get official results until next year when our five-year intervention has been analysed, but we have seen that this method works and we need to continue and expand to make life-saving consequences.”
Case Study: The RAIN (Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition) project has changed the life of 43-year-old mother of four Lillian Shachinda.
Since she became a small model farmer in 2011 she attends training sessions led by community organisers, so she can pass the knowledge back on to the women in her community.
“I can use this money to buy household essentials and little extras like sugar to have on sweet potatoes for breakfast. I can also send my children to school. I always sent my children to school but before they were going to school hungry and there was no money to pay for their books. Now they go having had a good breakfast and I can also pay for the extras – things like books.”
“The children have learnt how to cook eggs and they get milk from the goats and they don’t get as sick.
“Never in my whole life did I think I would have a flock of goats like this. I now have many. Concern gave me a female goat and this has given birth twice – once to twins and once to triplets.
“I appreciate the knowledge I have of agriculture and how to grow foods. I didn’t know how to do it before and now I do. I don’t need to make alcohol anymore. I have been trained to grow all these things and can eat better and I can sell the excess.
“Life used to be very difficult. I didn’t know how to feed my children and my husband and I separated as he was interested in other women. Now I am happy being alone and earning my own money that I can use as I like.
“I am growing many different things – sweet potatoes, bananas, pumpkins, ground nuts and cow peas. The children really like the sweet potatoes.
“I hope my farm will grow. I want my goats to keep multiplying – I want 100.”
What your money can achieve:
- £10 could provide life-saving food for a child for two weeks
- £28 could buy a chicken, goat, seeds, tools and training for two families
- £47 can buy water pumps for three communities
Every donation made between now and December 14 will be matched pound for pound by the UK government, doubling the difference you can make in tackling hunger for the world’s poorest children.
- Please donate by calling: 0800 032 4001 or go to concern.net/hungerstopshere
To make a £5 donation text HUNGER to 70007
You will be charged £5 plus one message at your standard network rate. 100% of your donation will be received by Concern Worldwide (UK). Registered charity in England and Wales (1092236)and Scotland (SCO38107). To opt out of hearing further from Concern please end your text message with NOINFO. All donations received by 14/12/2014 will be doubled by the UK government.