Joy for stunting children in Mutasa

Zimbabwe, like most southern African States, is in a food crisis and hundreds of families, mostly in rural areas, hardly have food to eat while some are surviving on one meal a day.

With the El Nino induced drought that ravaged the country since last year, up to 2,4 million people in the country are food insecure, according to figures released by the government in February this year.

Sadly, the delicate food crisis in Zimbabwe and other southern African States, largely attributed to climatic shocks and stress, has greatly compromised the nutrition of citizens, particularly rural dwellers, and this is being manifested through high malnutrition and stunting levels.

Children in most Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries, according to Sadc Food and Nutrition Security Strategy (2015 – 2025), are facing a serious challenge of malnutrition with the proportion of undernourished population ranging from 5 to 47 percent.

“Child stunting, under-nutrition and obesity are the critical nutritional challenges affecting the region,” noted the strategy, adding that chronic malnutrition (stunting) in most countries in the region is caused by low food production.

Conversely, the situation is different from Mutasa District in Manicaland Province, as families produce enough food for their families, but stunting levels are at 40,1 percent due to inadequate food intake, high rates of morbidity and inappropriate care practices.

The Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MISC) 2014 also found that the proportion of children under 24 months receiving the minimum acceptable diet (Mad) remains low at 8,4 percent nationally and 10,9 percent in Manicaland.
One-year-old Simbarashe Munyoro from ward 24 of Mutasa District, for example, is suffering from stunting due to poor dietary diversity, repeated infection as well as poor water and sanitation conditions at his home.

Despite being one year, Munyoro is yet to start crawling. To date, the only physical activity that Munyoro has achieved is to just lay flat on his stomach while raising his head.

“My son is short and thin. Unlike his only sister, he has a delayed growth,” confessed Tariro, his mother, worried about the future of his son.

Studies show that brain (cognitive) development is curtailed by chronic malnutrition and this affects children’s performance at school by reducing IQ scores by five to 11 points.
Later on in life, when children become adults, reduced cognitive skills translate into lower earnings.

When it comes to stunted growth, Munyoro is not alone in Mutasa District as many other children are suffering from the problem, a fact supported by Mutasa District administrator Tendai Kapenzi in a speech read on his behalf by Alois Kashiri during an Extended Nutrition Impact Positive Practice Approach (Enippa) graduation ceremony at Sadziwa Training Centre in Mutasa District recently.
“In Manicaland Province, Mutare has the highest stunting prevalence at 47,2 percent, with Mutasa at 40,1 percent and Makoni at 38,7 percent for children who are 6-59 months.
“Stunting here in Mutasa is not exclusively related to general food insecurity as the area is blessed with high cereal production,” he said.

However, stunting is set to be the thing of the past in Manicaland, particularly in 18 wards in Mutasa District, thanks to a Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP) implemented by a consortium of four organisations: Goal Zimbabwe as the leading partner, Practical Action, Sustainable Agriculture Trust (Sat) and TechnoServe.

The three-year programme, christened Improved Nutrition and Sustainable Production for Increased Resilence and Economic Growth (Inspire), is for 75 000 resource poor smallholder farmers in Mutare, Makoni and Mutasa.

Instead of dealing with the effect of food insecurity, the LSFP seeks to address the underlying causes of food insecurity for the rural poor in a long term and sustainable manner and requires the involvement of everyone who matters.

“Despite the fact that farmers in Mutasa District produce a lot, stunting prevalence are high due to behavioural change problems as well as lack of diversity when it comes to food production,” said Vongai Nyabanga, a Nutrition project officer: sustainable agriculture and livelihoods at Practical Action.

To solve these problems, she added, Goal Zimbabwe together with Practical Action, Sat and TechnoServe, rolled out a nutrition programme with two strategies: direct and indirect.
“The direct strategy takes in Enippa, developed with Food and Agriculture Organisation guidance on nutrition-sensitive agriculture, which puts nutritionally rich foods, dietary diversity, and food fortification at the heart of overcoming malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, and it focuses on behaviour change for communication,” she said.

Nyabanga also said the indirect strategy includes integrating nutrition-sensitive agriculture into extension.

“Elements of nutrition-sensitive agriculture that aim at increasing food diversity, accessibility and nutrition will be integrated into all elements of the project which involve interaction with farmers, and in advocacy and research,” she added.

Lamack Mahohoma, Practical Action’s acting Mutasa District supervisor, also said the key components of the FFSP are extension and advisory services, nutrition and market development.

He added that to effectively eradicate stunting in Mutasa District, a number of biofortified crop varieties have been tested and approved: Quality Protein Maize (QPM), Nua 45 sugar beans, Pro-Vitamin “A” Maize and Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP).

“Information on how to grow the crops was disseminated to the farmers so that they can try them (biofortified crop varieties) out on their individual plots.

“In addition, information on the preparation and processing of the crops was also disseminated to the farmers,” he added.
Kashiri applauded the efforts of the consortium, noting that the LFSP initiative is complementing government’s efforts in materialising the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) goals of ensuring food and nutritional security.

“Food and Nutrition Security is cluster number one of ZimAsset. The thrust of the Food and Security Cluster is to create a self-sufficient and food surplus economy and see Zimbabwe re-emerge as the “Bread Basket of Southern Africa.”
“Accordingly, the efforts of the consortium should be commended as the LFSP brings joy to villagers, especially stunting children because it increases production and consumption of diverse nutritional foods,” he added.

Mahohoma, on the other hand, said although the project has managed to bring people together to discuss dietary issues from diversification to the preparation and preservation of food, his main worry is that women are mainly dominating the circles.
“To effectively encourage and promote adequate and proper nutrition, as demanded by Section 15(c) of the Constitution, all partners should play an important role.

“I am therefore urging men, mother-in-law’s, elders, traditional leaders, community leaders, religious heads and other key stakeholders to play a key role in Enippa circles since they all play a role in determining what are deemed acceptable practices  within  a community,” he added.—Lazarus Sauti

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