In north-west Nigeria, a fight against child malnutrition
The WINNN project which is funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of the UK targets malnutrition in children under 5 in the hard-hit states of Jigawa, Borno and Yobe States.
DUTSE, 06 July 2021 – When Garba Bala Ahmad, a community health extension worker, noticed the recurring cases of anaemia and micronutrient deficiency in children arriving at the Magajin Garin Primary Healthcare Centre in Birnin Kudu, he decided he had to figure out a way to help them.
“After some thought, I set up a vegetable farm to show lactating mothers and pregnant women which nutrient-filled crops they could grow in their backyards as a source of nutritious food for children,” said Garba.
He set up the farm at the back of the clinic in Birnin Kudu, growing cabbage, spinach, onions, moringa, maize and sweet potatoes bio-fortified with Vitamin A.
“These vegetables are full of nutrients that children need for healthy growth, but they are absent in meals served in most homes here,” said Garba. “When breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women visit my clinic, I first give them a health talk, which includes the importance of breastfeeding and how to practice it.”
Some women have already set up vegetable farms in their backyards and Garba is excited about the possibilities for their children’s health. “If they keep at it and practice what we teach them, we’ll soon be seeing fewer cases of malnutrition and anaemia in children at this clinic,” he said.
Garba himself learned how backyard vegetable farming can be a way to fight child malnutrition at trainings organized by UNICEF and Action Against Hunger (ACF), which implemented the Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN) project.
The WINNN project is funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of the UK and targets malnutrition in children under 5 in the hard-hit states of Jigawa, Borno and Yobe States.
In addition to teaching mothers and pregnant women the importance of nutritious diets, the WINNN project also supports women with livestock as an economic empowerment strategy. Each woman receives two goats to rear for meat and milk.
“My herd of goats has increased from the 2 allocated to me to 4. I sold two goats a fortnight ago and purchased a grinding machine which will generate more income for me and my family,” said an excited Bilkisu Abubakar, 38, a beneficiary of the food security and livelihood programme of WINNN.
Aisha Abubakar, 35, a mother, said: “After I learnt about the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, I fed Nafisa my daughter – who is one year old now – breast milk only for her first six months of life. Now, I feel happy any time I look at her because she’s healthy and never falls sick.”
“Finding local solutions to prevent malnutrition is a more realistic and sustainable solution to Jigawa’s nutrition challenge,” said Dr. Shehu Sambo, Director Primary Health Care at the Jigawa Primary Healthcare Development Agency in Dutse.
“We spent 500 million Naira on the procurement of ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat severely malnourished children in the last four years - but we know that’s not sustainable,” said Sambo.
“So, we are moving towards more preventive care in our nutrition interventions, using maternal and child health campaigns for Vitamin A supplementation, for example, as well as strengthening the primary health care system and infrastructure,” he added.
The expression ‘prevention is better than cure’ couldn’t be more apt than in the concerted fight against child malnutrition in Jigawa and other states by the government, UNICEF and partners.