The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), implemented a technical cooperation program, during a workshop held on June 16 2022, aimed at improving nutrition in Eritrea.
Early last year, a consultation workshop was held from 28 to 30 September 2021 at the Asmara Palace Hotel to support the initiative and reinforce the results of the workshop and pave the way for development plans Nutrition through “Social Behavior Change Communication” (SBCC) Roadmap and Manual.
The consultation and validation workshops on the development of the national nutrition manual aim to break the vicious circle of malnutrition through effective nutrition plans.
In his opening speech to the workshop, Mr. Amanuel Negassi, Advisor to the Minister of Agriculture, highlighted that the development of nutrition-sensitive agriculture was an important part of the discussion. Nutrition awareness is the biggest step towards achieving food and nutrition security and preventing the complications of malnutrition. Once better production is achieved, there will be better nutrition and a better environment for a better way of life. Mr. Amanuel noted that the motto “No one is left behind” should always be kept in mind for proper development.
Dr. Eden Tarke, nutritionist and Eritrean diaspora; an expert in biochemistry and nutritional toxicology, as well as an environmental scientist and chemist, said that 80% of a child’s development occurs before the age of two, which means that the mental and physical development of a child occurs during the first 1000 days, a crucial period in a child’s growth and opportunity for lifelong change.
The main objective of the workshop was to change behaviors that block efforts to achieve nutrition security and to achieve nutrition security at the national level by strengthening awareness programs and developing a national strategic plan on nutrition.
Nutrition alone has the ability to reduce incidents of communicable and non-communicable diseases, which can occur due to poor dietary practices, by approximately 80%. Dr Eden pointed out that a well-nourished child is more likely to escape poverty and contribute to the development of a nation. And a well-functioning developmental program contributes to a child’s nutrition.
Workshop participants agreed that the level of public awareness of balanced diets is still limited, even in households that can afford to have a variety of agricultural products. After discussing the issue at length, participants concluded that by making small changes in people’s awareness of a balanced diet, big changes in nutrition can be made.
Mr. Arefaine Berhe, Minister of Agriculture, said that the road to nutrition security is generally smooth but not smooth. A preliminary nutrition assessment was carried out in all regions of the country to identify rich local food recipes across the country and create a viable venue for sharing experiences among communities in the regions.
Highlighting the impact that awareness materials will have on behavior change in nutrition, Mr. Arefaine stressed that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Marine Resources, along with other partners, will make concerted efforts to empower farmers and fishers to ensure nutrition security. “I am sure we will make a difference through collective efforts,” added the minister.
Family and community farming has been promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture with a view to enabling households to engage in poultry farming, dairy farming, beekeeping and horticulture at the household level with the aim to provide families with easy access to nutritious food. In this way, every household will benefit from a balanced diet and no one will be left behind in accessing improved food in the country.
Thanks to the support of the MoA, a radical change in an agricultural package has had an impact on the food habits of the communities. The communities of Habero, Geleb and Shebah, in the Anseba region, and Gala-Nefhi, in the central region, have, for example, benefited from the Minimum Integrated Family Farming Project (MIHAP). Thanks to MIHAP, Habero communities, who are traditionally agro-pastoralists, have been able to grow surplus food and introduce new recipes into their dish.
Market-oriented production that induces farmers to put the highest priority on the quantity of harvest rather than the nutritional content of the food they grow has also contributed to poor nutrition. Instead of applying a diversified agricultural production system, farmers were also confined mainly to growing cereals such as sorghum, wheat and millet. Another contributing factor to food security challenges is the low capacity to utilize marine resources and the lack of practice in supplying value-added agricultural products.
Issues that sparked in-depth discussions at the workshop include: the need to strengthen nutrition awareness campaigns at the community level, empowering farmers to grow nutrition-sensitive agricultural products as an effective way ensure nutritional security, the development of an integrated national strategic plan on behavioral communication as well as the strengthening of the role of cooperatives in nutritional security.
Participants suggested that an integrated approach to nutrition security should include ensuring the optimal health of a society. Stating that nutrition is not just about putting food on the table but about safety, Dr Eden stressed the importance of identifying foods that can improve health and the variety of wild fruits and vegetables that could be added to the list of foods as part of the efforts to improve nutrition.
To achieve nutrition security in Eritrea in a short period of time, multi-stakeholder integration is needed. For this reason, the workshop brought together representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Marine Resources, Trade and Industry, Education, Human Welfare and Social Security, Information, Eritrean Standards Institute, National Union of Eritrean Women, FAO and other United Nations agencies.
Ministries of land, water and environment as well as local communities will play an important role in achieving the envisaged goal, and participants called for an inclusive approach of all stakeholders to ensure safety nutritional.
The validation workshop concluded with the presentation of comments and suggestions from the group discussions as a way forward in the development and implementation of the national nutrition strategy.