At nutrition field schools in southern Mali, young mothers are learning and teaching about the building blocks of life.
Fighting child malnutrition in the Sahel has always been a daunting task. In southern Mali, over 28% of children under five are stunted – despite this area being the grain basket of the country. Iron deficiency is a major cause of anaemia, which is particularly severe in the region. In Koutiala, nutrition field schools established by Africa RISING partners have trained around 9,500 women. The real stars of this show are the women themselves: nutrition field school trainers pass on their knowledge, then select village nutrition leaders from the local communities, who go on to train others in their village clusters.
‘We must take care of our babies even before they are born’, says Assa Kayentoo, a nutrition field school trainer in Koutiala District, Mali. ‘It’s like when you want to have good cotton, you need to fertilize the soil to nourish the seeds for a good yield.’ As fewer than one third of adult women in Mali are literate, Kayentoo needs to simplify the facts about nutrition to help them understand. ‘I tell them that proteins are like the bricks needed to build a house – without proteins, a child won’t grow.’ Kayentoo provides oral and visual nutrition education, followed by a communal cookery class.
Mariam and Madou
Mariam Coulibaly and her baby, Madou, have been attending one of the nutrition field schools in Koutiala led by Kayentoo and her fellow trainers. ‘The field schools have saved the life of my son, Madou. He used to suffer from acute malnutrition and I used to think that he was cursed’, says Mariam, shaking her head. ‘I was so desperate, I even took him to the local traditional healers, who took a lot of money from me, without success.’ ‘Eventually, with help from one of my neighbours, I was introduced to a nutrition community support group and the nutrition field schools. The more of these recipes I’ve learned and implemented at home, the better Madou’s health has gotten . . . Now my son’s porridge is always made with at least four different food items.’
Lessons given at the field schools don’t end with nutrition: they also cover health advice such as reducing the risk of diarrhea by always washing hands with soap before handling food, and training on how to establish a home garden for a continuous supply of nutritious vegetables to supplement cereal-based diets.
Partners: Association Malienne d’Eveil au Developpement Durable; ICRISAT; WorldVeg
This blog post is part of our Partner Spotlight on Africa RISING. The aim of the program is to transform agricultural systems through sustainable intensification of mixed crop livestock systems, a key pathway towards better food security, improved livelihoods and a healthy environment. The program comprises three regional research-for-development projects, led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (in West Africa and East and Southern Africa) and the International Livestock Research Institute (in the Ethiopian Highlands). The International Food Policy Research Institute leads the program’s monitoring and evaluation project. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supports the program as part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.
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