Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Using Theatre as a Tool for Nutrition Behavior Change Communication

This post was written by Farai Alice Gwelo for the Agriculture to Nutrition Project as part of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network.

The Agriculture to Nutrition (ATONU) project whose implementation is led by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) has just concluded a series of Theatre for Nutrition Behavior Change Communication (TNBCC) performances in Tanzania. TNBCC is an adaptation of the Theatre for Policy Advocacy (TPA) tool, a form of participatory theatre that encourages creativity and allows for local people’s participation in developing solutions to their problems. ATONU chose to make use of theatre performances as a tool to communicate and advocate for nutrition behavior change in rural farming communities/households because of its dramatic representation of real stories and phenomena. TNBCC raises people's awareness of the hidden issues or questions in their communities, which can lead to reflection on prevailing problems. Furthermore, this kind of theatre has the propensity to empower people, with communities gaining greater understanding of their situation, enabling them to make informed decisions.

About the Project

In its pilot phase, the ATONU project is using theatre as a way of reinforcing Behavior Change Communication (BCC) messages that are currently being delivered by field personnel to ensure that agriculture delivers positive nutrition and health outcomes. Conducted in 20 villages in the Southern Highlands, Eastern and Central zones of Tanzania, ATONU is delivering a package of nutrition-sensitive interventions (NSIs) comprising the following behavior change communication (BCC) packages:

  1.  Nutrition education and hygiene to increase consumption of eggs and chicken meat
  2.  Influencing expenditure of income from sale of chickens and eggs to purchase other nutrient dense foods
  3.  Women's empowerment to influence changes in women’s time use and status (decision-making) within the household
  4.  Promotion of home gardens for improved dietary diversity.

Using oral and visual arts, community theatre can be used to effectively communicate serious messages in a traditionally acceptable format. Theatre has the added advantage that it can involve more people in the community beyond just the households that are participating in the project pilot phase. Apart from the involved communities, the TNBCC process also engages local, district, regional and national leaders. Broad community involvement, beyond the households participating in the ATONU project, allows for wider community buy-in and is a way for ensuring that the project leaves a legacy and a robust community of practice long after the project has ended.

Implementing TNBCC

A cast of ten Tanzanians were trained by seasoned theatre director Zenzo Nyathi, who has in the past directed FANRPAN’s TPA. The script for the TNBCC production was based on findings from a baseline study conducted before the project commenced that carefully incorporated core nutrition messages to include (but were not limited to):

  1. Consumption of chicken and eggs in family diets, specifically among infants, school going children and pregnant women
  2. Dietary diversification, ensuring the presence of the defined five food groups
  3. Improving hygiene and sanitation in the home
  4. Women empowerment and joint decision making
  5. Freeing women’s time and energy through support of household chores
  6. Infant and young child feeding

Apart from community members who showed up in great numbers for the performances, the events were attended by district government officials, local leadership (village and ward chairpersons, councilors and faith leaders), agricultural and nutrition officers as well as ATONU intervention households. The audience was diverse, including elders, women, men, youth and children.

As part of the TNBCC processes, a facilitated focus group discussion session followed after each performance, and the audience had a chance to deliberate on the key issues emerging from the performances. Communities reflected on what they were doing right, what behaviors they needed to change and the kind of support they needed in order to sustain good behaviors and/or adopt new ones at the household and community level.

Observations

It emerged during the group sessions that the audiences at each village identified with the issues that were highlighted by the performance. The theatre performance reiterated the messages and issues captured as feedback in the different focus groups.

The TNBCC road show has been a great success in enhancing community engagement as well as re-enforcing the different BCC messages that ATONU field staff have been delivering. Furthermore, engaging with community members that are not participating in the current project phase and the engagement of local and district leaders has engendered a meaningful understanding of ATONU and its objectives.

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