More children suffer stunted growth amid food insecurity

Saturday April 2 2016

Agriculture Minister Dr Gerardine Mukeshimana

Agriculture Minister Dr Gerardine Mukeshimana offering a cow to a resident of Kinihira sector, Rulindo District. Ministry of Agriculture has distributed 219,319 cows to poor and vulnerable families in a campaign against malnutrition. PHOTO | FILE 

By Jean-Pierre Afadhali

Despite progress registered in the fight against malnutrition and hunger in recent years, Rwanda may not reach its 2018 and 2025 targets of reducing stunted growth in children and under-nutrition.

According to official data, 19 per cent of households are still food insecure; while stunted growth prevalence is 38 per cent. The country hopes to reduce the number of children suffering stunted growth to 18.0 per cent by 2018.

However; this goal may not be achieved if current nutrition programmes are not boosted to accelerate the fight against stunted growth.

“Our progress trend shows that in 2018 we could be on 33 per cent. This means that we need to make extra ordinary efforts to achieve our target,” said Innocent Musabyimana, permanent secretary in Ministry of Agriculture.

The country stunted growth prevalence was 51 per cent in 2005, 44.2 per cent in 2010, and 37.9 per cent in 2014-15. The trajectory leads to estimated 33 per cent in 2018, yet the country targets 18 per cent rate, which means there could be a 15 per cent gap.

Compact 2025, an initiative to end hunger and under nutrition by 2025 has Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malawi and Bangladesh, supported by World Food Programme and International Food Policy Research Institute.

Last week, Rwanda hosted Compact 2025 first roundtable discussions. It brought together stakeholders to set priorities, review policies and share lessons on how to end hunger and malnutrition.

One cow per poor family is the country’s flagship programme to boost nutrition security and reduce poverty. However, the programme still faces many challenges as children do not always benefit because parents sometimes sell milk to raise their income and maintaining cows has proved costly.

Kirimi Sindi country director of International Potato Centre, an organisation contributing to improving the linkage between agriculture, nutrition and health, said the programme should be complemented by small livestock promotion to help families get protein and generate incomes.

“If you have livestock like cows, you don’t eat meat, so you do not get animal nutrition from the cow. Even though it produces milk as we said, a lot of that milk is sold,” he said.

Dr Sindi said small animals like chicken are easy to maintain, will produce many eggs; some of those will give nutrition in the family, others will hatch into more chicken.

Chicken provides food and proteins in terms of meat and eggs. Other small animals that can increase nutrition in families are rabbits and guinea pigs.

“If you want to get continuous production of proteins consumed in the family, these small animals are the only ones which are able to produce enough proteins for a family with very little input compared with a bigger animals,” Dr Sindi said.

With high population density and population pressures, cows are said to compete with other crops for animal feeds. They compete with food production, whereas small animals do not necessary compete as much with crops.

Another programme to scale nutrition is known as ‘“One cup of milk per child.” Through this programme 85,448 children benefitted in 2014/15 and received 1,545,814 litres of milk. The beneficiaries are children of school age.

Availability of nutritious food plays a big role in reducing malnutrition in Rwanda, but small-scale farmers are not always empowered to access seeds for bio-fortified crops.

According to Shenggen Fan, director general of International Food Policy Research Institute priority number one for Rwanda should be to get all smallholders farmers to produce nutritious food.

Although, Rwanda has one of the highly bio-fortified bean variety in the world, the adoption rate is still very low (21 per cent).

Mr Fan said food availability itself is not enough, but also the quality of nutritional food and agriculture. Small holders farmers have a very critical role to play by producing crops such as maize, beans, fruits, vegetable and animal proteins (milk and meat).