Improved household nutrition in Zambia through community cooking demonstrations & food preservation
Sharing critical nutrition information through targeted community gatherings
When you meet the Mpezeni Women’s group for the first time, you need to have your dancing shoes on. Make sure you have plenty of energy, as they welcome every visitor enthusiastically with song and dance. This musical routine is part of their delivery of nutrition information through cooking demonstrations to community gatherings.
“We take pride in sharing knowledge about nutrition and teaching both men and women alike as caregivers on how they can be deliberate about preparing meals that have something from each food group. We take pride in sharing knowledge about nutrition and teaching both men and women alike as caregivers on how they can be deliberate about preparing meals that have something from each food group.”
Based in Nsingo ward of Chipata District, in the scenic and hilly Eastern province of Zambia, the Mpezeni Women’s group has been functional for over 20 years and now includes men as part of its membership because of increasing male involvement in childcare.
Comprised of 25 members with Ms. Ziwa at the helm, the group promotes the preservation and consumption of diversified, nutritious food through cooking demonstrations. Their aim is to ensure that healthy and nutritious cooking is practiced in homes – primarily homes with pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under 2 years, but they also teach caregivers such as fathers, grandmothers, and siblings to promote nutritional wellbeing of not only the child and mother, but the entire household.
A colourful display of food showcases the best of locally grown food and captures three essential food groups to help reduce malnutrition and stunting. These are energy giving foods such as corn, body building foods that include soy and meat and protective foods represented by the assorted spread of leafy green vegetables.
“It is encouraging to see how many women have been keen to learn and utilize the knowledge about nutrition in their homes. There has been tremendous improvement in the physical appearance of our children ever since we started cooking demonstrations because we are promoting the use of food that is readily available locally.”
Cooking demonstration sessions are just some of the many activities taking place under the Scaling up Nutrition Phase 2 (SUN II) programme, with the aim to advance healthy feeding practices in communities. Other activities such as food production, post-harvest loss management, preservation and storage are implemented through training conducted by Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Food and Fisheries with technical support from FAO and WFP. The Mpezeni Women’s group has utilized the trainings and inputs received, such as orange maize seed, to demonstrate food preparation and promote food preservation to increase availability, access, quality, and safety of nutritious foods in the homes of their neighbors and community members.
“When our families are healthy, it frees us up to go about our business and be productive. We don’t have to stay home looking after sickly children because they are eating well now,” says group member Hellen Jere. “We are free to attend trainings and use the skills acquired to tend to our fields and manage our harvest better so that we can sell our produce to also contribute to household income.”
Under SUN II, over 800 small-scale farmers have been trained on improved agricultural practices while over 13,000 households have been trained on Post Harvest Management to reduces losses, including training on food preservation for improved food security. The food preservation methods are safe and ensure that vital nutrients of the food are retained.
“Almost all of us have backyard gardens, but before the programme we did not know how to preserve our vegetables to ensure a consistent supply of food high in nutritional value, even when they are out of season,” says Ms. Ziwa. “I was very excited to learn low-cost ways of preservation of food such as solar drying of vegetables and in turn teaching others how they can do the same through our activities as a group.”
The group also links with other SUN II interventions, such as Savings and Lending Groups. These groups empower women with cash through Ministry of Community Development and Social Services. They are equipped with information that helps them use some of the funds acquired for the purchase of food that cannot be accessed through local production, farming inputs and capital for business. With access to these funds, the Mpezeni Women’s Group produces palm oil and makes their own soap, which they both sell and use to promote good hygiene and sanitation practices in the community. Through these linkages and integration of activities, the Mpezeni Women’s group are contributing to efforts to reduce stunting.
In Chipata, about 33.1 percent of children are stunted. The overall stunting prevalence rate in Zambia is at 35 per cent. The SUN II programme ensures good coordination at the community level between line ministries, district nutrition offices, health workers, traditional leaders, community volunteers, and care or nutrition support groups. They all play a significant role in ensuring community action towards improving the nutritional status of children under 2 years is achieved.
SUN II is a four-year initiative led by the United Nations in 17 districts in support of the Government of Zambia’s First 1,000 Most Critical Days Programme Phase II. It is supported by the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany through the KfW Development Bank, the Republic of Ireland, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and UK aid from the British people.