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by Marian Amaka Odenigbo

Earlier in October, the Government of Malawi and IFAD held a training workshop in Lilongwe, Malawi to raise awareness and share experience about nutrition-sensitive development initiatives. The training brought together representatives of Ministries of Local Government, Ministry of Agriculture, colleagues from the Nutrition and HIV/AIDS department of the Ministry of Health, Department of Agriculture Extension Services, WFP, CIAT and TLC.

The selected participants for the training sessions included the food and nutrition officers at agricultural development divisions and district levels, Agriculture Extension Development Coordinators (AEDCs) and Agriculture Extension Development Officers (AEDOs), programme staff of IFAD-funded Rural Livelihood and Economic Enhancement Programme (RLEEP) and the Sustainable Agriculture Production Programme (SAPP).

The purpose of the workshop was to disseminate key findings of the survey conducted to assess the knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) about food to policy makers, and to train programme implementers on nutrition-sensitive interventions based on the KAP survey findings.

Mr Bright Kumwembe, the Chief Director of the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture opened the workshop and hit the nail on the head by saying "The issue of nutrition goes beyond what we see" in his opening remarks.

He expressed delight on IFAD efforts in addressing malnutrition in its investment programmes, highlighting that this is an equally important issue for the government of Malawi.

Survey findings
The KAP survey showed poor dietary diversity among rural households as well as ≥40% stunting in target districts. The high stunting rate compared to the national average was mainly because the surveyed households live in  remote rural areas.

While this is a devastating finding, at the same time it underscores the relevance of IFAD-funded interventions and the importance of working for and with the poorest of poor and those who suffer from malnutrition.

The survey noted a lack of knowledge vis-a-vis processing and marketing vegetables, fruits and pulses. It highlighted the need to improve processing techniques in an effort to ensure nutritious food products. The survey's key recommendation was to put in place vigorous and rigorous nutrition interventions in all the districts benefitting from the IFAD-funded RLEEP and SAPP programmes.

During the workshop Mr Dixon Ngwende, the National Programme Director for RLEEP programme and Mr Alex Malembo, Coordinator of SAPP, shared the story of their epiphany in realizing that for development interventions to be successful they cannot exclusively be income focused and need to also take into account other aspects such as nutrition. Ngwende, once a sceptic, now is one of the better nutrition-sensitive advocates.

This change of mind-set on nutrition was linked to the sensitization of project staff and supervision team on nutrition-sensitize agriculture during previous supervision and implementation support missions in 2014.

To make the most of the training opportunity, participants were clustered into small working groups according to their districts and they discussed:

  • appropriate approaches for addressing the challenges of maternal and child nutrition.
  • how to leverage and learn from RLEEP and SAPP interventions to ensure better nutrition outcomes.
  • indicators and targets for nutrition friendly activities in programmes. 

In preparing their action plan, there was a lot of optimism and conviction that communities could indeed operationalize the survey findings and use it as a benchmark for nutrition-related interventions.

The overall enthusiasm about mainstreaming nutrition was reflected in the comments provided in the post-workshop questionnaire.

Throughout the workshop I could not resist having a smile on my face while listening to policy makers and stakeholders advocating for nutrition with so much enthusiasm and interest.

Participants were challenged to be the agents of change and to raise awareness about government of Malawi and IFAD-supported programmes commitment on nutrition. The onus was on workshop participants to practice what they preach as they  proceed with the implementation of nutrition-sensitive interventions to improve the livelihoods of rural communities and smallholder farmers.

We've come a long way… We've managed to raise awareness about nutrition and we're designing and implementing more and more nutrition-smart interventions. There is more to be done, but when there is a way, there is a will!