Ministry of Agriculture: Developing Nutrition SBCC Roadmap and Manual

By: Mical Tesfay

The diet of an organism is what it eats, which is largely determined by the availability and palatability of foods. For humans, a healthy diet is determined by the way the food is prepared and the methods of storage used to preserve nutrients from oxidation, heat or leaching, and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. Nutrition is a multi-sectorial discipline that integrates the environment, food standards, trade, human welfare, and education into health and agricultural programs.

Poor nutrition is a threat to health. In humans, an unhealthy diet can cause deficiency-related diseases such as blindness, anemia, scurvy, preterm birth, stillbirth, and cretinism, or nutrient-excess health-threatening conditions such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, and such common chronic systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Undernutrition can lead to wasting in acute cases, and the stunting of marasmus in chronic cases of malnutrition.

To secure food and nutrition, it is vital to break a vicious cycle of malnutrition through intervention during the first 1000 days of a newborn child, from conception up to the time the child is two years of age. During this time, the nutritional intake of pregnant and lactating mothers, infants, and young children needs to be adjusted to the appropriate physiological needs. Failure to do so leads to malnutrition and associated complications.

Globally, 12 million children less than five years of age die every year, of which 50% are due to malnutrition-associated preventable communicable diseases. In the health sector, an endemic increase in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease as leading killers makes an additional challenge. Paradoxically, in many developing countries that are facing the problems associated with malnutrition due to lack of food, non-communicable diseases are emerging.

The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has been implementing a Technical Cooperation Program (TCP) on nutrition. The TCP project, which enhances the nutritional impact of MIHAP (Minimize Integrated Household Agricultural Approach) in communities, aims to improve food and nutrition security in targeted communities through nutrition knowledge and skills, healthy complementary feeding and access to diversified nutrient-dense foods, good health, and hygiene practices coupled with rural women’s empowerment and national stakeholder’s capacity strengthening.

A three-day consultation workshop to develop nutrition Social Behavioral Change Communication (SBCC), roadmap, and manual were held in Hotel Asmara Palace, Asmara, from 29 September to 1st October to sensitize and bring together stakeholders, including the MoA, Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Marine Resources (MoMR), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI), Ministry of Education (MoE), Ministry of Labor and Human Resource (MoLH), Ministry of Information (MOI), Eritrean Standard institution (ESI), local NGO’s, NUEW and the UN agencies, FAO, WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, and UNRC to share experience and expertise in SBCC.

During the consultation workshop, new ideas and practices to support families and communities and make favorable changes in nutrition practices within the stakeholders’ capacities were shared and discussed. For an effective and sustainable SBCC strategy, emotional, traditional, and physiological factors that facilitate or hinder the desired behavior were identified and analyzed. The consultation workshop included discussions on basic nutrition including food needs of Infant and Young Children (IYC), pregnant and lactating mothers, and those who are sick. There were discussions on behavioral challenges that need to be addressed, tentative solutions in nutrition malpractices, and strategies for SBCC, and expected outcomes. An opening address, an opening remark, and keynote addresses were given by Mr. Saeed Bancie, FAO representative in Eritrea, Mr. Arefaine Berhe, Minister of Agriculture, and Ms. Amakobe Sande, UN resident Coordinator, respectively. The general objectives of the consultation workshop were highlighted by Dr. Eden Tareke, a nutrition consultant followed by the progress report of the nutrition project given by Mr. Amanuel Negassi, advisor and coordinator of the project. Presentations were then given by representatives of the ministries on the strategies and roles of their ministries.

On the first day, updates were given on the role of MoMR in nutrition, the role of ESI in food safety and nutrition, the role of relevant ministries in nutrition, and the Ministry of Health (MoH)’s country briefing on nutrition, nutrition-sensitive agriculture, the contribution of MIHAP in the nutrition of its beneficiaries; and an introduction to SBCC, Ministry of Education’s strategies of awareness-raising programs on nutrition, agriculture and health, group formation and malnutrition problem-solution were presented.

The second day, which started with a recap of the proceedings of Day 1, continued with presentations on the role of NEUW in SBCC, the role of mass media in nutrition SBCC, fishery production development with respect to nutrition, and the role of UN agencies (UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO) in nutrition and nutrition-related activities. Then in groups participants made SWOT analysis of nutrition-related SBCC to identify its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to be able to outline the SBCC strategic plan.

The final day was devoted to discussion on SBCC stakeholders mapping roles and responsibilities in food and nutrition security, identifying common challenges and opportunities in achieving food and nutrition security, and group presentations on SBCC strategic plan.

The group discussions focused on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats concerning behavioral change through strategic communication to improve dietary habits. Participants discussed their expertise and experience in nutrition-related projects, the challenges they encountered, their strengths, and their future plans.

Malnutrition is a condition that can be prevented through awareness-raising programs. Awareness is a vital step to achieve optimal food and nutrition security and prevent malnutrition-related complications. Awareness-raising requires an effective and efficient communication strategy for the implementation of impactful nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions to bring about desired behavioral changes in food and nutrition habits, and the participants of the workshop pledged to work until the desired outcome is achieved.

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