Today we drove west from Niamey, the capital of Niger, into eastern Burkina Faso. The evening before, there was a torrential rain, and the desert is blooming. We drove into a somewhat moister climate, and the thorn trees gave way to large broad-leaf trees, including the Shea butternut tree, which is the source of the Shea butter found in many cosmetics.
At the town of Fada N’Gourma in eastern Burkina, we turned onto a track heading off into the bush, which we followed to the village of Zona-Tenga, a site of our Homestead Food Production program. We work with groups of women, particularly those of child bearing age, to diversify their diets by growing vitamin-rich vegetables and tending to small livestock, such as chickens and goats. These foods are excellent sources of vitamin A, iron, protein and fats – all of which are lacking in the diets of women and children in this region.
After six months of exclusive breastfeeding when children begin to consume complementary foods, they are often at great risk. Their growing bodies demand even more micronutrients, yet the local diets are often deficient in what they need most.
Our Homestead Food Production program promotes gardens, where the missing micronutrients are produced, and provides nutrition education to encourage optimal feeding practices and other Essential Nutrition Actions. HKI’s focus on nutrition distinguishes our work from other garden programs.
In Zona Tenga, grandmothers who have been trained by the project counsel other community members on nutrition practices. In rural areas in Burkina Faso, grandmothers are very influential and young mothers seek and scrupulously apply the advice of the elder women.
One grandmother, Veronique Coumbera, who is 65, told us that when she was young, women did not immediately put their child to breast. Instead, they waited three days before breastfeeding, during which time other women would breastfeed the child. The mother’s own rich colostrum was considered dirty and discarded. A year ago, Veronique was trained in essential nutrition actions by HKI, and now she advises women “to show their newborns love” by immediately putting them to the breast. Why did she advocate wholeheartedly this new behavior and ignore traditional practice? Because she “saw the difference it makes.”
Clarisse Yoni, 32, a participant in the Homestead Food Production project has four children, and the youngest is just 2 years old. This last child benefited from the produce from Clarisse’s garden, including fresh vegetables and eggs. Clarisse was also able to buy fish with revenue she earned from selling surplus garden produce. Clarisse reports that her baby girl, fed on these rich foods, is in much better health than her older siblings were at the same age. And indeed, the baby girl is an armful – big, plump and alert.
HKI is also working with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to conduct a rigorous study to measure the impact of homestead food production on the nutritional status of children, and expect to have results next year.