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By Marian Amaka Odenigbo

I just returned from the official launch of a regional project to support IFAD's initiatives on nutrition-sensitive agriculture. This event took place on 9-10 June, 2016 in Lusaka Zambia. It was all about a grant project for strengthening capacity of local actors on nutrition-sensitive agri-food value chain in Zambia and Malawi in collaboration with McGill University of Canada, and other partners including WorldFish and Biodiversity.
 
In International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), one of the instruments to advance smallholder farming is regional grant. The grant is awarded to institutions and organizations for strengthening the capacities linked to agricultural and rural transformation.
I was delighted with the level of participation and representation from IFAD country office in Zambia, IFAD-loan programmes in both Malawi and Zambia, National food and nutrition commission in Zambia, the ministries of agriculture in Zambia and Malawi.
  
Also in attendance were the representatives from McGill, WorldFish, Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, Self Help Africa (SHA), Food science department in the University of Zambia, Small Producers Development and Transporters Association (SPRODETA) in Malawi, and Lilongwe University of Natural Science and Research (LUANAR), Malawi. 

Group photo of the participants

Can we afford not to invest in nutrition?
“Nutrition can no longer be seen as a social issue, it is a multisectoral issue” said Abla Benhammouche, IFAD representative and country Director in Zambia during her opening speech. Benhammouche emphasised the need to invest in nutrition and went further to inform participants that the governments of Malawi, Zambia and IFAD had committed to nutrition. Last month in Lusaka, Zambia the African Leaders made an economic case for increased nutrition investments during the May, 2016 African Development Bank Annual Meeting. Benhammouche echoed that in this project, IFAD is bringing US$2million while the other partners are contributing $654,000.
 
In reinforcing the relevance of nutrition, Patrick Nalere the Regional Director of WorldFish said  “Without nutrition, whatever we think of doing, we are likely to go wrong” Nalere linked this project to one of the key priority areas of WorldFish-Nutrition and value chain. According to Nalere the initiatives in this project is one of the best nutrition related projects involving IFAD and WorldFish collaboration. And it is special in the sense that the project will go beyond poverty reduction and demonstrate the role of fish in addressing malnutrition”.
 
On the same note, the Government of Zambia and Malawi expressed delight and welcomed the project initiatives. “As a ministry we now believe that nutrition issues are not merely cross-cutting issues but key areas of focus” said Charles Sondashi, Deputy Director Ministry of Agriculture. He gave assurance of the Zambian government’s commitment toward supporting this project.
Furthermore, Mofu Musonda, Deputy Director of National Food and Nutrition Commission reiterated that the government of Zambia has recognized that nutrition issues particularly under nutrition in the country can be resolved through enhancing a number of agrifood value chain.

The Malawi counterpart, Martha Mwale, ministry of Agriculture, Malawi said “this project is coming at the right time when Malawi is facing challenges of nutrition and a lot has been lost due to issues of malnutrition”. According to the cost of hunger report, Malawi is losing MWK 147 billion Malawi Kwacha (US$ 597 million) due to child under-nutrition.

Implementation plan
The event went on to a second day June 10, 2016 for implementation planning.
Opportunity was given to each of the IFAD loan programmes to provide insight on their respective programmes interventions to identify the areas for linkages and support by the grant project. Similarly the project partners presented their respective areas of comparative advantage within the project activities.

According to Elia Manda, a preventative of SHA, it strives to help smallholder farmers in promoting small livestock, crop production, seed multiplication and other multi sector approaches to nutrition for under five children and pregnant women and appropriate child feeding practices coupled with emphasis on dietary diversification.
 
SHA gives loans to small scale farmers for instance the fish caging project in Siavonga, Southern province of Zambia was designed to benefit women. The women are engaged in aquaculture on a small scale and the produce is sold to the local community.

ZARI is also another partner that specializes in legume mainly beans. They have designed a recipe booklet on beans in collaboration with SHA.

SPRODETA, a local NGO in Malawi works with smallholder farmers who are prone to natural hazards and malnutrition. Allen Kumwenda, Executive Secretary of SPRODETA echoed that SPRODETA approach to reach out to their target groups include awareness campaigns and entertainment designed for disseminating nutrition information.

The University of Zambia and LUANAR in Malawi are also partners that will be working on this project. Through the department of Food Science and Technology, the universities will carry out research aimed at investigating the nutritional properties of selected homegrown food.
 
An informative video on McGill University was shown highlighting its commitment to African continent, Food Security and nutrition. McGill will backstop technical activities in the project. “We have several years’ experience on value chain analysis, value addition, quality and nutrition analysis” said Michael Ngadi of McGill University.
 
Moving Forward
A round table discussion was held on criteria for selecting project sites, identification of districts, priority value chain commodities and value added products to be developed.  Project partners were tasked to develop specific activities for the project year one. And Ngadi requested partners to think of - technology transfer, knowledge development and skills - while preparing activities:
In order to sensitize partners on effective operationalization of project actions, Robert KOK, a professor in McGill University gave an overview of the project management, coordination and reporting structures.
 
Participants were passionate to contribute to IFAD efforts on nutrition in these countries with high rates of stunting (Zambia 40% and Malawi 42%).

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