Nutrition is an important component of economic development as a whole and food security in particular. Evidence shows that malnutrition in the first two years of life permanently reduces cognitive function and physical capacity, making individuals more vulnerable to disease. This, in turn, reduces productivity, slows economic growth and perpetuates poverty.
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Nepal Flood Recovery Program (USAID-NFRP) recognizes the critical importance of the first 1,000 days of childhood nutrition and is working with women and children in rural communities to raise awareness and education around nutrition and hygiene. The program’s nutrition efforts improve access to a more diversified daily diet through increased nutritional awareness and productive gains made by home gardening or commercial farming.
Since 2010, the one-year nutrition and hygiene training program is working in 15 village development committees (VDCs) of the Terai region’s Kailali and Kanchanpur district with a total of 2,259 households. These households had pregnant women or children less than two years of age and could offer provision of a 333 square-meter home garden; a prerequisite for beneficiary selection. Through its nutrition and hygiene activity, the program trains trainers, creates nutrition action groups, and trains families on maximizing productivity and nutritional value of their home gardens.
TRAINING OF TRAINERS: USAID’s program collaborated with Helen Keller International (HKI) to develop and formalize a training program and syllabus for nutrition and hygiene courses. Almost 20 community-based trainers learnt about essential nutrition actions and behavior change communications. This group now serves as the community-level nutrition extensionists in the target VDCs, with each trainer educating an average of 400 households. USAID and HKI have also expanded their reach to include commercial agriculture groups in addition to home gardeners.
NUTRITION ACTION GROUPS: The community trainers help households form nutrition action groups. The groups are comprised of an average of 20 members who receive a three-day training from their local trainer. To date, 112 nutrition action groups have been formed from the 2,259 participant households, all of which have pregnant women or lactating mothers.
Through these trainings, young mothers and children are learning life-altering behavioral changes. Pabitra Mahata from Kanchanpur VDC has three young daughters. She and her husband scrape by on a small income from their tiny retail store. Mahata used to feed her children rice and junk food and said they were frequently sick. After participating in the training she learned the importance of providing a balanced diet for her children.
“I was highly motivated by the training given. I realized that it was entirely possible to increase the output of nutritional agriculture food from my small kitchen garden. I can see that my children are growing healthy now,” Mahata shared. The program is also teaching families like Mahata’s to sell the surplus vegetables at local markets, creating additional income for these rural farmers. Bolstered by the success of her experience, Mahata is committed to sharing her newfound knowledge. “What I know today, I share with every other neighbors and visitors in our grocery shop,” she said.
HOME GARDENS: Each household is trained to establish and increase the productivity of their 333 square-meter home garden. Families grow a variety of crops, including bean, pumpkin, gourds, papaya, guava, citrus and Indian cherry. While the main focus is on improving nutrition, the program also links them to local markets to sell this surplus food. Under the next phase of the program, a total of 75 hectares of home gardens will be established to provide families with the fruits and vegetables needed to address caloric, vitamin and mineral deficiencies common to people in rural communities of the Terai.
Under its previous phases, running since 2008, USAID’s Flood Recovery Program is increasing the agriculture productivity and living standards of thousands of farmers by enhancing the production of high value crops. The program utilizes improved skills and technologies like shallow tube wells, comprehensive training on nursery preparation, crop production, integrated pest management, and marketing and commercialization. Farmers are supported for three crop cycles. By the third cycle, they sustainably exceed previous incomes by 400%, on average. To date, over 12,000 famers have benefitted from training in commercial agriculture and household-level food production.