Boosting Resilience Means Families Can Maintain Nutrition and Income
In some contexts, there can be frustratingly little to work with. During the seemingly elongated dry season in Burkina Faso, a balanced diet as we know it is simply not an option. Protein is scarce, as meat and dairy are luxuries even during times of plenty. Fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive for most poor rural families, as a trip to the nearest market plus the added cost of produce imported from elsewhere is just too much. Starches and legumes are easier to find. Though spinach or poultry are not options, nutritious locally grown leaves such as moringa and baobab can provide key vitamins and minerals. Shea tree caterpillars mixed into a green leafy sauce and served over maize or cassava porridge also provides a fairly nutritious meal given the circumstances.
People in places like Rajasthan and the Sahel will tell you that there have been difficult seasons or times of the year for centuries. The difference now is that the extremes are more frequent and last longer. During a recent trip to Burkina Faso I heard again and again how the dry season seems to have extended by months and the rainy and harvest seasons are shrinking. Working with communities and families to plan for this change is essential. In Burkina Faso that means working with saving groups to save small amounts of money — perhaps specifically earmarked for health or nutrition-sensitive agriculture — throughout the year; drying and storing nutritious vegetables and leaves for the lean season; planting a small household garden; and, recycling water as they are able.
Many community development interventions rightly target women for a variety of reasons. However, women are not the sole decision-makers and more often than not have precious little decision-making power in their households. Grameen Foundation has woven gender dialogues into our agriculture and nutrition interventions. Conversations about which nutritious foods to grow and invest in or setting aside savings for better nutrition or insurance must be done at the household level and include both men and women. In Rajasthan these conversations also included topics such as portion size and the importance of eating as a family.
Figure out what you have to work with; there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Poor nutrition and ill health are inextricably linked. For example, a child infested with parasites loses most of his or her consumed calories and nutrients to chronic diarrhea. Messages about prevention and treatment of malnutrition, in addition to timely visits to health services, can preserve not only the health of the family but also its income. Linking with agriculture extension programs, cooperatives or even insurance programs can provide additional resources and safety nets to households. In Rajasthan, Grameen worked with Freedom from Hunger India Trust and local partners to design linkages with local health centers, Integrated Child Development Services centers and other government agriculture and nutrition programs that complement and strengthen the messages and tools the women and their families receive from the program.
At Grameen Foundation, we often partner with financial services providers who work with women in the community through savings groups, self-help groups or microfinance groups. These platforms are ready-made networks which enable us to efficiently disseminate program messages and products to large numbers of women. In both India and Burkina Faso, community volunteers were trained to use behavior change communication to educate their groups on topics ranging from nutrition to agriculture techniques and financial literacy. In addition to the messages, these trained volunteers assist groups with their savings transactions and relay information about community linkages. The women’s groups and trained community volunteers are proud of the work and invested — their commitment will last longer than the life of the program grant. And that is the goal. The program should be owned by and live in the community, encouraging innovation, scale and sustainability.