Mr. Amanuel Negassi is an adviser to the Minister of Agriculture and Chairperson of the Technical Committee for Food and Nutrition Security which constitutes representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Marine Resource, Trade and Industry; and the Eritrean Standards Institution. He is also a senior nutrition expert. A short interview conducted with him on national strategies and achievements towards Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture follows:
Q: Let’s start with what is recommended for a balanced and healthy diet.
A: It is generally advised that people should eat a healthy and balanced diet by making most of their meal vegetables and fruits (like half of their plate); and one fourth whole grains (like whole wheat, taff, sorghum, maize, millet and barley). The other quarter is recommended to be protein power such as fish, poultry, beans, meat and nuts. The micronutrients including the vitamins are in all of them. In addition, the type of carbohydrates in the diet is more important than the amount of carbohydrates.
Q: What are the strategies of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) towards ensuring food and nutrition security?
A: Ministry reports show that 785 different sized dams and ponds were constructed to promote agricultural development across the country during the past 31 years. These water holding structures have significantly increased the total irrigated area for the production of horticulture products by around fivefold. Subsequently, vegetable and fruit production increased by 5.7 times and 71 times respectively.
In addition, these structures gave birth to concrete strategies that could help the country towards ensuring food and nutrition security. The first one is the Minimum Integrated Household Agricultural Package (MIHAP). It is an initiative developed and implemented by the MOA since 2013 to ensure food and nutrition security at household level. Households selected for this package are those who have a small plot of land (a minimum of 0.25 hectares around water points). Each household is expected to possess an improved cross-breed dairy cow or sheep or goats; chicken, one frame (modern) hive; one top bar hive made by the farmers themselves, small vegetable and fruit farm, firewood trees etc.
The other strategy is the Small and Medium Commercial Farmers Strategy (SMCFS). It is also a viable strategy that encompasses two major components; namely technological support and creating enabling environment to commercial farmers so that they can contribute in speeding up the journey towards ensuring food and nutrition security.
Q: The MoA has recently been engaged in some nutrition related projects. Could you tell us about their progress?
A: Bearing in mind the significance of prevention of malnutrition and food insecurity in the country, a Steering Committee from concerned line Ministries (Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Marine Resource, Trade and Industry and the Eritrean Standards Institution), with its Technical Committee, was established as a National Food and Nutrition Security Forum in 2014. The committee mainly focuses on improving the population’s health and nutrition status.
Over the years, the Technical Committee for Food and Nutrition Security has undertaken numerous community-based training on food and nutrition. During the last two years major activities were undertaken at “Improving Nutrition in Eritrea: Agro-diversity Nourishing Communities”. This is a programme jointly implemented with FAO and the Steering Committee for food and Nutrition Security.
In 2021, capacity strengthening in Trials for Improved Practices (TIPs) was organized in Anseba and Maekel regions in communities at household level and it was well received. TIPs in families with children 0-24 months, pregnant, and lactating women are believed to improve nutrition through their feeding practices. This was very evident in enhancing the nutrition impact of MIHAP beneficiaries in Food and Nutrition Security in targeted communities through nutrition knowledge and skills, healthy complementary feeding , availability, and access to diversified nutrient-dense foods , good health and hygiene practices coupled with rural women`s empowerment. The project has enhanced the nutritional impact of the “Minimum Integrated Household Agricultural Package (MIHAP)” in beneficiary communities through nutrition knowledge and skills, healthy complementary feeding, availability and access to diversified nutrient-dense foods, good health and hygiene practices coupled with rural women’s empowerment and national stakeholder’s capacity strengthening.
Q: How is, then, the impact of MIHAP evaluated in the beneficiary households with regard to Nutrition?
A: The MIHAP program has a great potential for improved nutrition outcomes, through improved diet diversity. The program also has several pathways and components where nutrition would be improved. These are increased income, increased production, availability and access to diversified foods. The proposed program was used as an entry point to improved nutrition among household beneficiaries and communities. Thanks to the pilot project, we noticed that changes in the diet take place against an ever-changing landscape in food preferences, knowledge, attitudes, practices and skills, food availability and access among other factors.
Q: How is Eritrea progressing towards Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture?
A: Currently, even though not enough, we can see considerable supply of vegetables and fruits across the country all year round. MIHAP philosophy is also expected to contribute in ensuring milk and its products as well as honey production. In addition, proportion of pulses and oil crops in comparison with cereals is increasing. All in all, while we talk about production and productivity, we need to stress the need to make agriculture nutrition sensitive. Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture (NSA) is an approach that looks to strengthen the contribution of agriculture to nutrition and it focuses on the benefits of a variety of food and improving economic status.
Q: How do you evaluate public awareness towards nutrition sensitive agriculture?
A: It is improving from time to time. Generally, we aim to increase the awareness of farmers on production and management of crops, fruits, vegetables, dairy, poultry, beekeeping and compost. We are working to promote sustainable value added nutrition programs using locally available food and improve the impact of agriculture and food systems on nutrition and minimize unintended negative consequences. Hence, the ongoing campaign has sensitized and brought together stakeholders (Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Marine Resources, Trade and Industry, Education, Labour and Social Welfare, Information and the Eritrean Standards Institution, the National Union of Eritrean Women and UN Agencies.) In our recent projects, we have used Social Behavioral Change Communication (SBCC) methods to improve awareness in feeding practices, like changes in knowledge, attitude, and practice. Subsequently, a number of activities have been conducted to create awareness and knowhow to improve food and feeding habits at community levels with different kinds of healthy recipes and food preparations for better health in Anseba and Maekel regions.
Q: If you have final words to say?
A: The activity to improve Food and Nutrition Security in targeted communities through nutrition sensitive agriculture interventions will continue. It will be supported by enhanced nutrition knowledge and skills, healthy complementary feeding, availability and access of diversified nutrient-dense food, good health and sanitation and hygiene practices coupled with rural women`s empowerment and capacity strengthening because many people are still not aware and do not benefit from the production and consumption of diverse nutrient dense-foods which are locally available. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the MoA is striving not only towards nutrition sensitive agriculture rather it is leaping to safe agriculture by promoting natural fertilizers (both in solid and liquid forms) and pesticides instead of the chemical ones.
Ministry of Agriculture
13 April, 2022