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Agriculture and nutrition are two major components of food systems and this is the reason why Farm Concern International (FCI) is developing innovations to link the two, as it is evident that to have a wealthy and healthy community agriculture and nutrition cannot be mutually exclusive. Malnutrition continues to be a major challenge in Africa and many other parts of the world with majority of those affected being communities in rural areas, among them thousands of farming communities.
Agriculture in Africa lays emphasis on increased production through good farming practices with little or no attention paid to nutrition aspects. Developing innovations to link the two has been FCI's main objective in ongoing interventions. FCI has been in the forefront to:
Educate smallholder farmers to integrate nutrition in their farming systems. The various approaches used include; engagement of community health workers, to offer training to the community, designing communication materials that have messages on nutrition (banners, posters), holding very interactive training forum at the village level.
On 26th September, 2012 FCI held two training forums in Mbuguni Commercial Village in Arusha, Tanzania. One of these forums was attended by over 30 women featuring nutrition care for pregnant women & lactating mothers, the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for infants between 0-6 months and preparation of balanced meals for their families.
The second training forum was on integrating nutrition and agriculture and this training targeted both women and men .The community was trained on the benefits of practicing mixed farming for purposes of accessing crop products and other animal products like eggs , milk and meat . Farmers were taught that when growing crops they should intercrop; always ensuring they have planted energy giving food (i.e. cassava), pulses (beans, green grams) and vegetables (i.e. cow pea leaves). This should be practiced for the dual purposes of ;( 1) maintaining soil fertility and (2) creating household access to nutritionally balanced meals. If this is practiced within every household and foods for every family meal selected carefully from such a basket then the family will be liberated into a nutritious lifestyle. In the past agricultural trainings tended to focus more on intercropping for purposes of maintaining soil fertility.
AGRA Chairperson, Dr. Kofi Annan and Melinda Gates among other senior staff from AGRA, Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and Tanzania government officials joined in and briefly participated in the training sessions during their visit to Mbuguni Commercial village. The visitors were briefed on the training content and had a chance to see and taste some of the African Traditional Foods that had been cooked during the cooking demonstration phase, among them; cassava cake, spider plant leaves and sweet potatoes leaves.
Dr. Annan engaged women by asking them questions based on the nutrition training they were receiving; "How many of you have changed your diets since the trainings started?" he wanted to know. Approximately 75% of the women raised their hands in the affirmative.
"Do you accept every food introduced to you even when you don't like the taste?" he asked. Farmers answered with a "No," however one female trainee responded that they had been taught to overcome taste challenges by using different recipes: "When we cook vegetables we have been taught to add eggs, milk or groundnut sauce which improves taste and makes it more acceptable to children." Annan advised the women to keep consulting their trainer especially when their children don't accept the newly introduced foods.
Melinda then asked the women if they would be keen to train their daughters about what they had learned when they got back home. Over 90% of the women said they not only trained their daughters but alsotheir neighbours as well.
Another interesting innovation demonstrated at the training session was the 'fireless cooker', an innovation aimed at saving both energy and cooking time. Dr. Annan asked: "Where is the source of the fire." To which the FCI Commercial Village Facilitator Ms Zarubia Kinyogo explained that the food being cooked, in this case rice, is first put on another source of fire (woodfuel, gas, or charcoal) and brought to boil and thereafter transferred into the fireless cooker, covered in airtight conditions and left to cook under the steam in the pot. Ms Zarubia practically demonstrated how she had cooked a meal of rice with the fireless cooker in the short time the nutrition training had taken place!
It is innovations such as these that have gone a long way in improving the livelihoods of the Mbuguni Community not only through increased household incomes but also through aggressive nutrition campaigns, that have been FCI's main area of focus.
FCI VISION :Commercialized smallholder communities with increased incomes for improved, stabilized & sustainable livelihoods in Africa and beyond.