Friday, 30 May 2014

Children and chickens – a path to better nutrition in Africa

ACIAR Graduate Research Officer Emma Zalcman recently traveled to Africa for meetings with village elders and researchers involved in an ACIAR project to improve childhood nutrition though poultry...

I was recently privileged to travel to Tanzania with Dr Robyn Alders AO, an ACIAR project leader with more than 20 years experience working and living in Africa. Dr Alders is leading the ACIAR project Strengthening food and nutrition security through family poultry and crop integration in Tanzania and Zambia’. The project aims to reduce childhood undernutrition by analysing and testing opportunities to enhance the key role that women play in improving poultry and crop integration and efficiency to strengthen household nutrition. 

Tanzanian children

The project’s strength is its multidisciplinary team, which includes veterinarians, medical nutritionists, crop scientists and social scientists (Tanzanian and Zambian nationals and Australians). It is quite unique in its quest to not only enhance agricultural productivity, but also to link this to human nutrition, perhaps uncovering and addressing some of the more complex social and gender issues that might create barriers between improved productivity and improved nutrition.

By focusing on poultry and minor crops, the project aims to draw on the strength of women as major agents of change and natural champions for childhood health and nutrition. The first step in 2014, the opening year of this project, is to collect baseline information about the health of children, women and chickens along with social information within the villages of interest. The range of information collected will be extensive, from iron levels in children to locals’ knowledge regarding appropriate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

Village leaders and project team at Sanza Ward
headquarters, Tanzania (Emma front row, right)
Along with this data collection, Newcastle disease vaccination programs for chickens will be implemented. The success of these programs in other regions is well documented: a new ACIAR report estimates total net benefits to Africa of around $479 million - amounting to about $60 return on every dollar spent.

Village chickens could provide a path to better nutrition
On my trip, it was terrific to see the enthusiasm of the villages chosen to take part in such a program. Given the nature of the nutritional research, it’s important to select some villages that have not previously received any major interventions in animal health or human nutrition. For this reason, amongst others, several village leaders expressed significant gratitude for the promise of this well overdue assistance. In addition, it was obvious that the project objectives are very much in line with what the village leaders identified as priorities.

In small ward headquarters, elected representatives gathered, many having walked long distances from their village in their best clothes to discuss the project with Dr Alders and her team. Many had thought intensely about the project since the last meetings were held and had prepared profound questions regarding the project’s aims and methods. Several leaders urged the project team to begin Newcastle Disease vaccination earlier than intended as they were well aware of the disease as a major problem in their area during particular seasons, knew of the efficacy of the vaccination and were anxious to secure vaccination programs for their particular village before the major risk period.    

The project is complex and challenging, but it will change lives. Its results will have significant impacts on the way we view agricultural productivity and its link to nutrition. 

By Emma Zalcman, ACIAR Graduate Research Officer

More information:
ACIAR project FSC/2012/023 Strengthening food and nutrition security through family poultry and crop integration in Tanzania and Zambia, led by University of Sydney

ACIAR Impact Assessment report - Newcastle disease control in Africa

ACIAR blog: Chickens changing lives in Tanzania


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