Kenya has a rich culture regarding food, with a lot of diversity in both cooking and growing food. The types of foods they eat are fairly different in the way they cook it, but the products are largely similar to what we eat. Regardless, just like a lot of African countries, malnutrition within Kenya is a mayor issue. Right now 2,1 million people are highly food insecure within Kenya's ASAL region, and in total 15,9 million people (30% of kenya's 53 million population) are facing food insecurity each year. While our research isn't focused on the ASAL region, we took a look at the problem in regards to the whole of Kenya before narrowing it down Kilifi County. The main question for us is:
" What causes child malnutrition in Kilifi, Kenya and what can be done about it? "
In this blog we will explain how this problem originated and is still maintained, what malnutrition is and why we put the focus on child malnutrition and possible solutions.
Malnutrition is a big problem within Kenya. 1 in 5 children are stunted and 45% of these stunted children are dying. We researched what causes child malnutrition in Kenya and found that this cycle is at the core of the malnutrition problem. The goal of our research was to find the best possible way to intervene within this cycle, which we think lies with the children and specifically in educating them better on food.
Our research is focused on the country of Kenya which lies on the eastern shores of Africa, right on the equator. First, we looked at Kenya as a whole and later we narrowed it down to Kilifi County because for this research we are collaborating with the North Coast Medical Training Centre in Bomani.
TYPES OF MALNUTRITION
When not enough nutrients enter the body this leads to malnutrition. There are two different types of malnutrition. Stunting and wasting malnutrition.
Stunting or chronic malnutrition is caused by inadequate nutrition over long period of time leading to failure of linear growth.
Wasting or acute malnutrition is caused by acute inadequate nutrition leading to rapid weight loss or failure to gain weight normally.
Stunting is chronic but usually does not pose an immediate threat to life. Wasting results from an acute shortage of food and causes a lot of deaths.
FOOD INSECURITY IN KENYA
The malnutrition problem is ofcourse connected to the food insecurity. Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Although Kenya’s economy is the largest and most developed in eastern Africa, 36,1% of it's population lives below the poverty line. Within Kilifi and especially near the coast, however, this problem isn't as pressing as in the rest of Kenya yet.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations the entire world produces more than 1,5 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet.
The fact that Kenya still has to deal with food insecurity has to do with availability, accessibility and usability for the people. You could say it's a 'wicked' problem, meaning there's tens to hundreds of factors involved in the problem and it can't be fixed with a single solution.
urban / towns
The left map shows the rainfall, height and average wind directions in Kenya. There is a strong connection between these climatic factors, because they contribute the most to where crops can grow. The right map shows what crops grow where. Rains in Kenya & Kilifi have been decreasing for the last 50 years and the last two years have been alarming. Around 50 % of their country is in use for agriculture, of which most gets exported to other countries. Around 65% of their GDP comes from farming. This shows us how reliant Kenya is on it’s land and how important it is they find sustainable alternatives.
MAPPING KILIFI COUNTY
Within Kilifi County the area near the coast has the highest potential for agriculture. The people here mainly grow cash crops: cashew nuts, coconuts, mangoes, pineapple and sisal. The further inland you go, the smaller the scale of farms you’ll encounter until it’s less than 1 hectare. The west part of Kilifi is hotter and dryer and because of this mainly cattle, goat, poultry and sheep are farmed here. The amount and scale of agriculture is far less here because this area is too dry. The food insecurity at the coast (and Bomani) is minimal because of the rainy climate.
MACRO- & MICRO-NUTRIENTS
Nutrients can be divided in two different groups, macronutrients and micronutrients.
To grow and function normally you need macronutrients. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the three main suppliers of nutrition in your diet. While all macros provide valuable energy to your body, they each fulfil different functions.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy body. Your body doesn’t produce macro- & micro-nutrients so it’s essential to eat enough of these to stay, or get, healthy and energetic. To visualize this we've made a graphic with foods well-known to us westerners, but provided an image underneath of some staple Kenyan foods and their nutritional values.
WHAT KIDS EAT
The main foods consumed by children in Kenya are ugali, breastmilk and beans. This will give them enough protein at this age. The main concern lies in the fact that the amount of macronutrition and especially protein that is needed rapidly increases as the children grow, while their diet stays the same as when they were younger. The bar graph below shows the recommended daily intake of the three most important macronutrients.
WHAT KIDS SHOULD EAT
In this picture we've displayed different foods that are available in kenya. By
eating a varied diet you get enough nutrients, because every food contains different nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. This is only part of the problem, because from interviews we also concluded that people often lack the knowledge to cook food in a healthy way (for example because they overcook vegetables resulting in a loss of nutrients).
“Malnutrition is defined as “a state when the body does not have enough of the required nutrients (under-nutrition) or has excess of the required nutrients (over-nutrition).”
EFFECTS OF MALNUTRITION
Kilifi south is ranked 3rd of child malnutrition problems out of the 47 counties in Kenya. Malnutrition not only affects the body of children but also has far-reaching consequences for human capital, economic productivity and national development.
These images emphasize the seriousness of malnourishment in Kenya. The long term effect is that on average malnourished children are paid 20% less paid in their future. Children whose mothers have no education are four times more likely to be underweight compared to those whose mothers have secondary education. This again emphasizes the importance of education to aid in reducing malnutrition.
ORIGINS OF MALNUTRITION
The impact of European colonialism in Kenya is still visible. The British empire changed Kenya’s rich variety in crops to a monoculture economy whereby the Kenyans had to abandon their own food crops traditions. With the introduction of this intensive monoculture mainly focused on cash cropping, vital systems were disrupted. This eventually lead to deforestation, biodiversity loss, reduced precipitation, soil nutrient loss, and erosion. The second way colonialism damaged the land was through the relocation of African people, which caused the population density to rise by up to 500 people/km² in some areas leading to accelerated land degradation.
The droughts, monoculture and the fact that a lot gets exported have the result that there is food & water insecurity, as well as less variable diets. This ultimately leads to malnutrition. In our research we found different opportunities that could help alleviate a part of these problems. We've explained the
CAUSES & OPPORTUNITIES-
The lack of knowledge and money, plus the bad availability of food lead to food insecurity and non variable diets. This ultimately leads to malnutrition. Our possible solutions for the upbringing are mainly focused on gaining knowledge. In the community garden people learn farming from each other and in the class they can get educated on hygiene, how to cook and what to cook etc.
CAUSES & OPPORTUNITIES-
The food insecurity, lack of money and malnutrition ensures that kids don’t have concentration in school. Besides this, parents do often not have the money for school uniforms. If the children don’t have a uniform they aren’t allowed to go to school. Kids drop out of school because of both reasons.
A school garden could (partially) provide food for the students so that they gain knowledge about farming/nutrition and get enough energy to follow the lectures.
LOCAL OPPORTUNITIES MAP
We've stated some recommendations and opportunities specifically for the area around the North Coast Medical training College in Bomani, Kilifi. At the college there is a course called Community Health and Development which focuses on the knowledge of the communities to aid in preventing future health issues and diseases. The college could be a great help in the projects in this area. The different recommendations and opportunities are further explained below.
School gardens can provide two unique possibilities to a community. Firstly, addressing the problem of malnutrition directly by providing much needed food. Secondly, in contributing to a behavioral change needed to diversify their diets and ensure food security in the future.
Thanks to our buddies, we’ve learned that the drought in Kilifi has delayed sowing the seeds. Crops like beans and corn are the main source of food in this region, even though they are highly susceptible to extreme weather conditions. In a polyculture, there could be many different plants with one being more drought (or pest) resistant than the other. This way, even if a drought occurs, there’s always something to eat.
Crops collected need adequate (cold) storage in order to stay good for long periods of time and avoid post-harvest crop losses. Some plants need to be dried and stored and others need to be stored in cool, dry locations. New innovative designs for this can be made that are spatially efficient for storage and transport. One example of this is the use of light and air-tight reusable drums or bags.
Other crops need to stay fresh in cooled environments. One example for the cold storage is using terracotta and a small amount of water for perspiration.
CAUSES & OPPORTUNITIES
We will first show what caused different problems and possible solutions for Kenya, then we'll show what solutions we think are applicable to the local scale of Bomani and the NCMTC.
Agroforestry could be a very interesting opportunity for Kilifi, as it's far more resistant to droughts & floods than a traditional farm. Agroforestry in this sense means using the traditional perennial and non-perennial edible plants in a forest setting. This will ensure better production as well as a more diversified diet. An example of some indigenous plants are the groundnut (vigna subterranea) and tamarind (tamarindus indica).
When community and public farming plots such as this are established, people come together for both leisure and work and strengthen connections between inhabitants by making new social networks. When the community networks are strong, the task of caring for children be shared amongst the community. the opportunity arises to share knowledge about the farms and garden happening within community spaces and this provides a free sources of knowledge sharing.
To address these issues the mothers can be taught on how to feed their children the right way. They need to know the benefits of a healthy diet, so they know the importance. When teaching them about nutrition, the training can also give them some information about hygienic and energy saving cooking methods, because we learned from our buddies that most people are cooking on gas or wood.
We believe that knowledge is the anwser to a lot of problems related to malnutrition. We learned that child malnutrition is caused by multilayered problems that are all related to knowledge in some way. Most of the knowledge is already there or can be found in history, but it isn't widespread enough. The North Coast Medical Training college can offer assistance to the community of Bomani, by creating a platform for environmental education and knowledge exchange within the community. With the exchange and gaining of knowledge we think the vicious cycle can be broken.