Thanks to Earth Council Geneva’s generosity, International Medical Corps began designing and executing a backyard gardens pilot project in April 2019, in nine kebeles villages of Gursum woreda in East Hararghe Zone, Oromia Regional State, Ethiopia. These communities requested assistance with gardens during feedback sessions conducted as part of our Positive Deviance (PD) Hearth program, which we have been implementing for the past four years.
I. Background and Context
The UN’s July 2019 report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, states that 149 million or 21.9% of under-five children are stunted or low-height-for-age, caused by long-term chronic malnutrition. The impact of stunting is irreversible and jeopardizes a child’s survival and development because of impaired physical growth and cognitive development. One goal of the Government of Ethiopia’s National Nutrition Program 2016-2020 is to address the deep-rooted causes of malnutrition and reduce stunting prevalence among under-five children from 40% to 26%, through high-impact coordinated interventions like Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) and Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) programming. The specific target for participation of under-five children in the health system’s Growth Monitoring and Promotion (GMP) program based in health facilities is 80% by 2020.
The PD/Hearth solution for underweight children 6-59 months is a cost-effective, sustainable way of preventing future malnutrition within a targeted community by changing norms in childcare, feeding and health-seeking practices, and by building community-managed early prevention and rehabilitation mechanisms for malnutrition. Our objectives for this program are therefore to 1) improve the nutritional status of underweight children in the targeted locations; 2) make these improvements sustainable at the individual household level by educating their mothers/caregivers on how to use locally available, affordable and culturally accepted foods; and 3) prevent future malnutrition by positively influencing community norms and behaviors.
To date, International Medical Corps has organized 184 “hearths” in Gursum woreda – since 2015 in Awbere, Garawedaja and Gafra Guda; since 2016 in Biyonegya, Odanegeya and Goroseyo; and since 2017 in Diferes, Harish and Buna. Each 12-day hearth enrolls 10-12 underweight children under five and their mothers or caregivers, for a total of 1,579 children. To date, 98% have gained a minimum of 200g at the end of the hearth and experienced continuous weight gain over the following six months thanks to better feeding and improved hygiene practices in the home. These children’s siblings and neighbors have also benefited.
II. Gardens for Food Security and Revenue
International Medical Corps is collaborating closely with the government of Ethiopia’s woreda-level Agriculture and Health offices on all implementation phases of this project.
Our first step was to facilitate a basic backyard gardening skills training in all nine districts from August 7-16, 2019. The participants included 107 “health development army” volunteers (all women), eight community leaders (all men) and 18 development agents (16 men and two women), who link farmers with the Ministry of Agriculture. Topics focused on site selection, initial plowing and manuring, seed bed preparation, seed rate, sowing depth and spacing, cover grass and watering, cultivation for weeding, harvesting and utilization. The training refreshed the knowledge of the development agents and enhanced the community members’ awareness of improved agronomic practices of selected vegetables, so that they can train mothers in their groups and monitor their activities.
Seeds, Gardening Materials and Planting
The next step was to procure seeds based on the Agriculture office’s advice and the area’s land type, as well as the communities’ dietary characteristics: Swiss chard seeds (26kg), carrot seeds (79kg), cabbage seeds (20kg) and tomato seeds (81kg) for all 1,579 households; and to procure watering cans and plastic sheeting for 685 households. As of September 2019, International Medical Corps had distributed seeds to 1,146 households (73% of the total) and 284 households (18%) had started planting.