I started with Helen Keller International in April 1994 – as country director in Bangladesh. One of the most exciting programs I inherited was our home gardening initiative – which has evolved to become Enhanced Homestead Food Production – “enhanced” to include small animal husbandry and increased focus on promotion of optimal nutrition and health behaviors. When I moved from Bangladesh back to Africa in 1997 this was one experience I ardently wanted to replicate – since access to nutritious foods is one of the major obstacles that women face in providing adequate diets to their children.
I also observed firsthand how bringing technical expertise to small-holder women farmers could be transformational – building on their traditional knowledge about gardening and allowing them to develop more skills and generate increased income.
It is very moving, 19 years after having joined HKI, to sign this new grant with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Over three years ago we embarked on a partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to undertake rigorous program evaluation and operations research on Enhanced Homestead Food Production in Burkina Faso. The initial results show an encouraging increase in the quantity, quality and diversity of produce in home gardens. Families are consuming more nutritious foods. Women farmers are earning household income through the sale of surplus produce and have an expanded decision-making role in the household. The prevalence of anemia among women and young children has been reduced.
One of the products we promote in the package of Enhanced Homestead Food Production is orange-fleshed sweetpotato – the kind of sweetpotato that anyone growing up in North America is used to. In Africa sweetpotato is widely grown, but almost always white-fleshed varieties that have no vitamin A. The orange-fleshed varieties are veritable vitamin powerhouses and have been shown to improve children’s vitamin A status. This part of our program was featured on ABC World News.
This new investment from CIDA will allow us to push the envelope in our understanding of how Enhanced Homestead Food Production can best improve mother’s and children’s nutritional status. This is vital learning for the global development community as increasingly there are calls for the agriculture sector to improve nutritional impacts. We will be scaling-up our Enhanced Homestead Food Production program in four countries in Africa and developing the tools so that other organizations can also replicate this success. In Asia this initiative has reached over a million families – we are striving to replicate that success to bring this transformational innovation to those most in need.