From cultivation to nourishment: a journey of empowerment and health
In this tale of resilience and enlightenment, Aishatu and her husband, Abubakar discovered the transformative power of knowledge for child nutrition.
Aishatu Zakari and her husband, Abubakar, reside in Briyel, a small village in Bayo Local Government Area of Borno State, northeast Nigeria. The couple are engaged in farming, cultivating a diverse range of crops to support their growing family.
"My husband cultivated millet, beans, guinea corn, maize, groundnuts, and soybeans. But all these were mostly for sale in the village market. As a family, we were not eating all these food items. The guinea corn was what we mostly cooked for the children, and I never knew I could add soyabeans and groundnuts to the guinea corn to prepare a balanced diet for them,’’ said Aishatu.
Aishatu’s first son, Mohammed, eventually became malnourished and was managed at home with herbs by his parents. His symptoms of weight loss, fever, and diarrhea persisted until a community nutrition mobilizer, Hauwa Idi, visited the family and facilitated the child’s admission into the UNICEF-supported outpatient nutrition programme in the village.
Before the community nutrition mobilizer, aunty Hauwa, came into my life, my child suffered greatly from malnutrition. But after we met her, she introduced me to the mothers’ support group, which enhanced my knowledge of child nutrition and facilitated my child's admission into the outpatient therapeutic program,’’ added Aishatu.
The support group, one of many funded by the British Government’s Multisectoral Integrated Nutrition Action in North-East Nigeria (MINA) project, is building the capacity of caregivers to provide nutritious diets to children affected by conflict. Often located within a short distance from their homes, support groups deploy practical cooking demonstrations with available, affordable, and nutritious crops.
For Aishatu and her husband, the insights from the support group are transformative.
Before, we were not aware of the variety of meals that we could prepare from our farm products. We ate almost the same meal every day. However, since I joined the support group meetings, my knowledge has increased about the preparation of nourishing meals, and I wish I knew this earlier,’’ she said.
Support groups are led by a community nutrition mobilizer (CNM) who is trained on best practices in infant and young child feeding as well as personal and environmental hygiene. The CNMs are also trained to screen children for acute malnutrition and refer affected children to health facilities.
Aishatu's life changed when Hauwa Idi, one of the CNMs in Briyel, took a particular interest in her family and started paying them regular visits.
"Aishatu is one of the women in my support group, and she is a fast learner. After her first child recovered, her second child did not fall into malnutrition because she practised what I taught her. She now knows how to make the nutritious Tom brown pap and prepare it for her children," Hauwa Idi said.
"There is now compelling evidence that the impact of humanitarian crisis can be significantly mitigated by building the resilience of communities and people to shocks and addressing the root causes of vulnerability.” - Tom White, the FCDO Humanitarian Team leader/Programme SRO
The UK-funded MINA project is critical to ensuring support for families in North-East Nigeria to access better food sources, acquire skills and behaviours. The project also supports groups of households to transit to food sufficiency, which will in the long-term, reduce the need for humanitarian aid.. Through the MINA project, families in northeast Nigeria are learning healthy nutritional practices to enhance good health and better living.