How can we Ensure that Nutrition Isn’t Overlooked in Food Security Projects?
Denise van Wissen co-led workshops on nutrition-sensitive agriculture in Nicaragua from February to April 2017. This blog is a personal reflection of the challenges and surprises while working with agronomists and other project staff. More background, as well as presentations, reports, and even facilitator contracts to create the workshop series, are available at www.securenutrition.org/nicaragua.
Project technical staff enjoy the Bilwi workshop. © World Bank / Denise Van Wissen
It wasn’t until we were getting seated on a platform at the front of the dim little building, that one of my colleagues noticed a religious-themed picture on the wall.
”Oh! This is a church!”
It was, indeed, the San Pablo community Protestant church, housed in a non-descript wooden building, right on the gravel highway but without a sign to identify it. This was where we all crammed, not for a sermon, but for a workshop on Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture. Though it was early, participants were already sweating in the sweltering Nicaraguan heat.
The Food and Nutritional Security project in San Pablo and nearby areas had been on-going for about a year, and the families were eager to share what they’d learned. They were eating more fruit and vegetables, they improved hygiene in their community, and most importantly the children weren’t malnourished. While the first two points could be true, the latest health post data showed poor nutrition was still a prevalent. This is a tough challenge in some communities, where stunting is so common that it is seen as healthy, while the children with average size for their age are considered ‘big’ outliers.
Project nutrition coordinator Janette Hall presents. © Denise Van Wissen / World Bank
We moved the whole group into a discussion on breastfeeding, touching on how long mothers breastfeed, and what babies were given other than breastmilk. In smaller, more intimate settings, it’s a little easier to respond to the many misconceptions on this subject, especially when those who voice them (sometimes male participants or authority figures like the health post staff) tend to be convincing! But, despite a few such interventions that were difficult to contradict, we managed to identify obstacles to successful breastfeeding like having to go out to work in the fields or being a single mother. We suggested that forming a mothers’ support group might be helpful.
Next was a comment that can be even harder to handle in groups than breastfeeding, but is still so important to think about in terms of food security and nutrition: family size and teen pregnancy. As soon as the topic came up, one of the government agency team members on the platform leapt from her seat, expounding on methods of birth control and telling all the men to buy condoms on their way home! We anxiously scanned folks’ (and the priest’s) faces for their reactions, but everyone seemed to take the speech in stride.
There was so much participation from both project participants and staff that the workshop went almost an hour longer than the original 2 hours that we had programmed. To conclude the session, Lucrecia Muñoz, a community leader, thanked the project staff. She said they had never had the opportunity to learn about nutrition before, and she would be happy to make nutritious foods for her family.
Community leader Lucrecia Muñoz thanks the participants of the Bluefield workshop. © Tamara Gonzlez / MEFCCA
Before boarding buses to leave the training, we had a chance to observe the sanitation situation firsthand in San Pablo by using the neighbouring latrines. We concluded that, like malnutrition, sanitation still had room for improvement.
The next day, we had a follow-up session with the government project team, and analyzed how the San Pablo workshop had gone. The agronomists were willing to integrate all aspects of food security, including nutrition, into their work, and the nutritionists would do their best to share their expertise. One thing everyone agreed on is that, to make lasting changes, government ministries need to work together and help each other.
We are confident that the project staff will continue to help the villagers on the path towards greater food security.