Making healthy foods and proper hygiene a lifestyle

Afikepo 'Let them develop to their full potential'

Sellina Kainja
Salome Phiri with her family
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Sellina Kainja
26 June 2020

Agnes Mbewe is all smiles and obviously well loved. Weighing in at 9 kg, the bouncing five-month-old girl has been gaining weight steadily since she was born in Malawi’s Nkhotakota District.

“Agnes is healthy because I was eating nutritious foods right through my pregnancy,” says her mother Salome Phiri, 29. “I am exclusively breastfeeding her and have not yet started giving her solid food.”

In a country where one in four children is stunted due to poor dietary and hygiene habits, Agnes’ good fortune and healthy weight is no accident.

Before the girl was born, Phiri took part in a programme called Afikepo which is designed to reduce stunting and promote proper nutrition among children under the age of five.

Supported by UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization, and funded by the European Union, Afikepo – a Chichewa words which means “let them develop to their full potential”– has been successfully rolled out by the Malawian government across 10 districts.

Tens of thousands of Malawian families have been reached by the intervention which aims to enhance nutritional security by increasing and diversifying dietary intake and enhancing beneficiary knowledge of proper hygiene practices.

In the case of Agnes and her family, health workers came to their village to teach local people about the importance of consuming diversified, nutrient-dense foods especially for children and expectant mothers.

Baby Agness looking healthy thanks to the Afikepo programme
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Sellina Kainja

“Before Afikepo we were really lagging behind when it came to nutrition,” says Phiri, “Our first-born child, now 5, had low weight because at her birth I was not eating nutritious foods during my pregnancy.”

Phiri explained the family’s livelihood came from subsistence farming and in the past they’d eaten mainly nsima, a white maize which contains little nutrients.

Now they include beans, fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat. They have learned to keep their cooking utensils clean and to wash their hands regularly. They also built a pit-latrine with a cover to keep flies away.

Valentina Nkhoma, 28, and her husband John Mwale Kamatenda, 27, from Kasungu District, have also taken part in Afikepo.

Nkhoma, who is expecting a baby, says she has more energy now and has noticed the difference between her first and second pregnancy.

“I was taught the importance of eating such diversified and nutritious food for my own health and the health of my baby,” says Nkhoma, “In the past we would only eat once a day and it was not nutritious food.”

Nkhoma says she and her husband now have a backyard garden where they grow vegetables such as tomatoes, pumpkin and kale to supplement their diet. They also now have chickens and plan to farm goats.

Says Kamatenda: “This programme opened my eyes that as a man I need to take a leading role in looking after the children and helping my wife. I help with feeding the baby and in preparing meals.”

Care promoter Stefano Yesaya says most households are able to replicate what they are taught by the Afikepo programme.

“We teach them about the importance of diversified food consumption with the aim of reducing diseases that are caused by lack of good nutrition,” says Yesaya, “People in this area have since stopped defecating in the bush they now have clean toilets.”