A research project tackling malnutrition among vulnerable populations in Kenya and Uganda is launched in Nairobi today.

The three-year initiative targeting women aged 15-49 years of reproductive age, and children aged 6−59 months, aims to develop a quick-to-cook porridge from at least four food groups, affordable for poor communities.

Poor dietary diversity among the poor is a key contributor to malnutrition, said Dr. Mercy Lung’aho, a nutritionist at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Nairobi. Non-staple legumes such as beans and vegetables like amaranth can increase diet diversity for a more balanced diet. But these are often underutilized in diets, say researchers.

School feeding program supported by CIAT in Madagascar. Credit S.Malyon, CIAT

School feeding program supported by CIAT in Madagascar. Credit S.Malyon, CIAT

The project aims to create a win-win situation, improving nutrition of low-income vulnerable groups, while also benefiting smallholder farmers with improved income generating opportunities. It will do this by improving the availability, quality, safety and price of more nutritious foods cultivated by small holder farmers.
Understanding the value chain to benefit both consumers and farmers

A first step is to analyze malnutrition levels among a study group of poor households in Kenya and Uganda. That data will provide nutritional information about individual health, where families source food from, and how much they pay for it. This will help researchers understand which nutrients are a priority to add to the porridge.

“While a family may not have the resources to cook dry beans, vegetables, and cereals three times a day, they can boil this bean-based porridge which is nutrient dense and affordable, as an ideal supplement in the diet,” said Dr. Christine Chege, an agricultural economist and nutritionist at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Nairobi.

Making safe, nutritious and affordable food available, especially for urban consumers, means working with the private sector and engaging everyone involved in food production – including farmers, say researchers.

Understanding how the whole food value-chain functions, including nutrient leakages and critical points of contamination – from food produced at the farmer’s gate to what arrives on the consumer’s plate – and evaluating how nutrition can be optimized and transaction cost reduced throughout this chain, is vital to supply nutritious foods to the poor.

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