Urban nutrition

As you drive out of Maputo in April the roads transform from grand, tree lined boulevards to narrow and dusty pathways filled with shops and marketplaces where people are busy buying and selling their produce. The cars and bicycles kick up dust as they drive by and the houses and settlements which fill the many winding roads look small and somewhat temporary.

At 8am the heat is already intense and the air is thick with humidity. It is going to be a very hot day. As we drive through the streets, the wind coming through the windows provides a little relief from the unrelenting heat.

After an hour of driving we pull up at our destination and hear the sound of loud drumming and music around us. As we slowly pile out of the car we are greeted by a sea of orange and a mix of vibrant colours. We are surrounded by young girls dancing energetically while boys and girls play instruments behind them. The dancers move quickly in tune with the music and the vibrant colours of their costumes are a dazzling sight.

As the sound slowly subsides and the dancers withdraw into the shade we are warmly welcomed by the staff of Zizile, a health and education NGO in Mozambique which is focused on providing healthy living and nutrition education to schools and communities. Today Zizile staff members have travelled with their mobile education van to conduct nutrition outreach with the community and we are here to participate as well.

The International Potato Center (CIP), through the DFID funded Scaling up Sweetpotato through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) program in Mozambique has recently partnered with Zizile to incorporate resilient, nutritious orange-fleshed sweetpotato into their nutrition outreach program.

Orange fleshed sweetpotato varieties were introduced to Mozambique in the late 1990s but it was only in 2011 that locally adapted varieties actually bred in Mozambique became available. Since then CIP has been working to promote OFSP as a nutritious and resilient food security crop for both the rural and urban markets. This recent partnership with Zizile is recognition that there is huge opportunity to increase consumption of OFSP in Mozambique and that partnerships with existing NGOs who have strong community ties is a great way to do so.

A large group of community members including teachers, parents and children from the local area have gathered to participate in this health education session on nutrition, cooking, healthy eating, sanitation and food preparation. OFSP is a key component of the education program today as a local community member and Zizile staff are going to teach us how to make OFSP bread – Mozambique style.

Alongside these outreach events, CIP and Zizile staff members also support community members to plant OFSP in their community and school gardens and provide them with information and support to grow and harvest the nutritious crop so that it can become a regular part of their diet.

Over the next hour we are treated to a wonderful cooking show with OFSP as the star! Zizile and CIP staff members give the crowd a fun and entertaining show demonstrating how to cook delicious OFSP bread. The show is loud, engaging and colourful and the kids are hooked. Many listen attentively from the chairs set up in the shade and the younger ones run around excitedly trying to get a closer look at the orange dough that is being prepared in front of them. The community members are taught to wash, scrub, peel, grate and knead the dough all while getting a great deal of detail on the nutritional benefits of the crop and the best way to ensure hygiene and sanitation in the family home.

Agriculture is central to the future of Mozambique and while much of the agricultural production is based in the northern and central areas of the country the outskirts of Maputo provide a timely reminder that nutrition in urban and peri-urban areas is also an important issue.

Food insecurity in Mozambique’s rural and urban areas is still a significant challenge. At least 25% of people suffer from food insecurity throughout the year, and 44% of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition (stunting). Over 65% of children under the age of five suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) is a vitamin A powerhouse that can address the high rates of VAD in Mozambique. It can improve nutrition, empower women and increase household incomes. Its short maturing period (3-5 months) and ability to grow under marginal conditions and flexible planting and harvesting times are production advantages that can help to improve food security.

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is one of the most pernicious forms of undernourishment in the developing world, limiting growth, weakening immunity, affecting sight and increasing mortality. Afflicting over 140 million preschool children in 118 countries and more than seven million pregnant women, it is the leading cause of child blindness in developing countries. In sub Saharan Africa, CIP has demonstrated that OFSP, when coupled with community nutritional education, provides high levels of vitamin A to vulnerable populations, especially women and young children. One small boiled root of most OFSP varieties provides 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A for children and one medium root provides all of the needs for most women of reproductive age.

The orange bread dough is placed in the oven and the smell of baking bread begins to drift across the crowd. Unfortunately we can’t stay until the bread is done but it already smells delicious and the kids from the community look excited to try it. As we prepare to leave the drumming starts up again and the crowd starts to say its farewells. Zizile has strong ties to this community and is playing an important role in health and community outreach and provides CIP with a wonderful opportunity to get OFSP and nutritional messaging to the people who can benefit from it the most.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the International Potato Center (CIP) has been working to bring the nutritional benefits of OFSP to nearly 2 million households in countries across sub-Saharan Africa affected by vitamin A deficiency. Over many years of working on OFSP, CIP has demonstrated that rigorous research in agriculture and health sciences can be combined to create solutions for global nutrition challenges and that these can be scaled up to reach millions of vulnerable families.

SUSTAIN is a 5-year partnership (2013-2018), coordinated by CIP and financed by the UK Department for International Development, to scale up the nutrition benefits of bio-fortified orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP). The goal is to reach 1.2 million households with under-5 year old children in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Rwanda. SUSTAIN supports integrated interventions in agriculture, nutrition, utilization, and marketing to strengthen production and consumption of OFSP. SUSTAIN emphasizes rigorous measurement and evaluation in order to assess the scalability of these interventions and contribute to global evidence on achieving large scale nutrition outcomes through bio-fortified crops. SUSTAIN is one project under the umbrella of the CIP-led Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative that seeks to improve the lives of 10 million African households by 2020 through access to improved varieties of sweetpotato and their diversified use.