Capacity building of focal points: an effort to accelerate nutrition in development projects

By Marian Odenigbo, IFAD Senior Technical Specialist

Increasingly, development partners and stakeholders are promoting awareness on nutrition mainstreaming. It was so interesting to see enthusiastic workshop participants from IFAD projects in 10 countries in the East and Southern Africa region in a quest for exploring opportunities to accelerate nutrition mainstreaming in development projects. IFAD and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security of Botswana hosted this learning and capacity building workshop in Maun, Botswana from 5-7 March 2018.

Workshop participants hailed from different types of investment projects, ranging from natural resource management, climate-smart agriculture, irrigation, agricultural production and productivity, fisheries, livestock, agribusiness, value chain and rural finance interventions. The attendees from Botswana, as well, were drawn from various sectors, including health, agriculture and veterinary services. This workshop was a successful, structured, three-day learning event which benefited from the support of FAO and WFP under the auspice of Rome-based food and agriculture agencies (RBA) collaborative initiative.

The overall goals of the event were to:
• Promote a better understanding of basic nutrition knowledge and the integration of cross-cutting issues in nutrition mainstreaming in agriculture and rural development projects 
• Create awareness of existing resources that the project staff can access to support nutrition mainstreaming in their project interventions 
• Better define the roles and responsibilities of the nutrition focal points at project level.

Raising awareness on nutrition
The official opening session saw the Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Patrick Pule Ralotsia, touching on some of the more pressing factors of nutrition situation. According to Hon. Ralotsia, “What you eat determines how far you can go”. He went further in emphasising the importance of preventing malnutrition instead of treating its consequences by stating that “Any Government that takes nutrition seriously will convert hospitals into schools”. Exponents of the Ministry of Agriculture were all in agreement that thinking in terms of agricultural production alone was not enough to solve the rampant issues of malnutrition, and that nutrition education as well as focusing on expanding dietary diversity were key factors in in solving malnutrition at the country level.

Opening session of the workshop: Hon. Patrick Pule Ralotsia, Minister of Agriculture (3rd person from right)

As part of the opening session, one of the project focal points, Mr Jeronimo Francisco (a nutrition expert in PRONEA Support Project, Mozambique) introduced a short video detailing the efforts on raising nutrition awareness and the promotion of nutrition sensitive interventions in Mozambique. Specifically, the video showcased the activities of extension workers on promoting good nutrition through culinary demonstrations units in the communities. 

The workshop started with an interactive nutrition awareness session facilitated by Boitshepo "Bibi" Giyose, senior Nutrition Officer in FAO/ NEPAD. This session as asked questions about nutrition, "Is boosting agricultural production enough to solve malnutrition?" and "Is macronutrient deficiency more important than micronutrient deficiency?".

Leveraging Rome-based agency collaboration for nutrition at country level
The workshop involved training sessions with the support of FAO and WFP colleagues, and IFAD staff from HQ, regional and country offices. Among the topics confronted by the agencies were the multiple burdens of malnutrition at the individual, community and national levels, which was presented by Gertrude Kara, the HIV, Gender and Nutrition Officer, FAO. Mrs Pontsho Sepoloane, WFP nutrition officer, dwelt on the cost of inaction on malnutrition. IFAD’s Isabel de la Peña delved into the role of agriculture in addressing malnutrition, presenting the key features of nutrition sensitive agriculture and rural development investments. Participants were introduced to the Integrated Impact Pathways approach for nutrition mainstreaming, which analyses how project activities contribute to improving household and individual nutrition, at output, outcome and, ultimately, impact level. Emphasis was made on the multidimensional nature of malnutrition and, consequently, the importance of the convergence of interventions in food security, water, sanitation and hygiene, care practices, sustainable and climate-smart agriculture, as well as the targeting of women and female youth for maximized impact on reducing malnutrition.

Consolidating knowledge on nutrition
During the first group work exercise, participants identified the underlying factors of malnutrition and emphasized the importance of reducing the impact of the AIDS epidemic and improving water safety. Addressing nutrition education and local ingredient sourcing with cooking demonstrations and utilising local media such as community radio was one of the more important suggestions made. The outcomes of the first group work then fed into the second exercise, during which each of the groups constructed an integrated impact pathway to illustrate how each case study would contribute to improving nutrition among target beneficiaries. Special care was taken by the participants to find linkages with gender, youth and climate issues with the nutrition activities they suggested.

Learning and experience sharing on nutrition mainstreaming
In light of IFAD's current mainstreaming approach which promotes horizontal integration of the different cross-cutting themes, a panel discussion was held on issues related to nutrition nexus with climate, environment, gender, women empowerment and youth. Resource persons were drawn from the regional technical experts in gender and climate as well as representatives from an international organization and a local NGO for practical experiences on the integrated approach in project interventions. 

Marie Clarisse Chanoine, the technical specialist in environmental and climate change adaptation in IFAD projects explained the nutrition co-benefits of climate smart initiatives and how investments in climate change adaptation and mitigation at different scales could impact on nutrition. 

Elizabeth Ssendiwala, the IFAD Regional Gender and Youth Coordinator for the East and Southern African Region highlighted the issues on women empowerment, targeting vulnerable groups including the youth for improved nutrition. She also emphasised the importance of intersecting the focus on nutrition with that on gender issues, being sure to include nutritionally at risk groups in a multifaceted approach to project interventions. 

Dr Amegovu Kiri Andrew, the executive director of Andre Foods International (AFI) a local NGO in Uganda shared his experiences on the promotion of good nutrition. 

Gábor Figeczky the Head of Global Policy at IFOAM - Organics International gave his compelling insights on how the use of innovations and networking are accelerating the work on nutrition.
The lessons and experience shared on nutrition mainstreaming was backed up by a storytelling session held by four IFAD project coordinators: Kwibisa Liywalii (E-SAPP, Zambia), Martin Liywalii (S3P, Zambia), Rakotonaivo Hary Lala (FORMAPROD, Madagascar) and Dixon Ngwende (RLEEP, Malawi). Key points were raised, such as the importance of having clear nutrition indicators and objectives, and interfacing with existing government infrastructure, including the Universities and district-level officers. Some of the major challenges faced were also pointed out- balancing commercialisation and household consumption in agribusiness, the difficulty of nutrition retrofitting, and issues with coordination among ministries. According to Dixon Ngwende, nutrition retrofitting in an ongoing project should aim at cost-effective activities, as projects were not initially designed to accommodate nutrition activities in their budget. On a complementary note, Kwibisa Liywalii pointed to the importance of running a food and nutrition survey to inform nutrition initiatives. Rakotonaivo Hary Lala and Martin Liywalii pointed to interventions that could be accommodated within such constraints, such as youth vocational training in agriculture and including small livestock production at household-level. In finalizing this session, IFAD's corporate priority on nutrition was reiterated, and an introduction was given on the available resources to foster nutrition-sensitive interventions in on-going projects.

Learning from the field
The workshop participants were given the opportunity to visit four sites in Maun in order to observe or explore nutrition-sensitive initiatives. They were tasked to interact with the local farmers about their activities and to apply the knowledge acquired from the workshop for an integrated approach. The participants reconvened after the field visit to brainstorm and identify key ways in which nutrition was or was not being mainstreamed in the sites, and provide suggestions for a better integrated approach for nutrition linkage with gender and climate issues.

One of the sites showcased the efforts of an independent agribusiness producer, Nonnie Wright, who runs a 120 ha dairy farm employing four women and two men. The participants pointed out the hiring of women, diversification of products and use of hygienic practices following the country's norms and regulations for dairy production as nutrition sensitive factors, but they also identified key issues such as inadequate fodder, lack of access to finance and the poor availability of fresh water. Suggestions were made for these issues, such as rain water harvesting, planting legumes and introducing horticulture, and exploring the possibility of applying for loans from gender empowerment funds to expand the herd and mechanize the farm so as to lower the work time burden and increase productivity. 

Sereldi Farm field visit site in Maun, Botswana – demonstration of resources on site