‘Before Our Food Was Poison, Now It Is Medicine’
Women are agents of change in improving their families’ and community’s nutrition.
“Before, our food was like poison in our bodies, but now it is like medicine,” says Eunice Wango Manga. ©FAO/Sven G. Simonsen
14 March 2019 (FAO)* — “Before, our food was like poison in our bodies, but now it is like medicine,” says Eunice Wango Manga, a farmer in Kitui County in Eastern Kenya.
Her family and community are among the beneficiaries of an FAO project to make smallholder households eat better and grow foods that are more nutritious.
Eunice, 45, is one of 26 members – all but two of them are women – of a farmers’ self-help group. In late 2017 the group started receiving food and nutrition trainings as part of the FAO’s Increasing Smallholder Productivity and Profitability (ISPP) project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“Before, I was not able to walk long distances. We had a lot of sickness in our family; we would go to hospital frequently,” says Eunice, who is married with three children. “But now we are healthy and very active.”
The money they used to spend on hospital visits, Eunice and her husband are now spending on school for their children and on their farm. Recently, they bought a water pump for irrigation, saving them the cost of hiring someone to pump water to their fields.
Most people around here have been eating the wrong things for different reasons, Eunice says.
“Rich people would eat a lot of animal proteins and fats, while poor people would eat a lot of simple carbohydrates and salt. As a result, people were often getting sick. But the FAO trainings taught us how to balance our meals,” she says.
Eunice now grows kale, spinach, amaranth and tomatoes in her vegetable garden, and her family consumes them almost daily.
Besides being a farmer, Eunice is also a pastor. “Even in church, I teach people about a balanced diet,” Eunice says, enthusiastically. “People come to me and tell me they are not feeling well. Then I ask them how they eat and give them tips on how to improve their diets.”
“I suffered from excessive sweating and swollen knees,” says Regina Munyasya, 50. “But after Eunice advised me to change my diet, the sweating stopped, the swelling came down, and my energy returned.”
Her family members are noticing health improvements too. “I am the one cooking, so if I change my diet, I change theirs too,” Regina laughs. Among the changes she has made, she now cooks with less oil and less meat and adds nutritious foods, like sorghum, to their meals.
An important part of the FAO trainings has been to teach the farmers about indigenous, nutritious vegetables that they can grow in their gardens.
“We were surprised sometimes,” says Ann Mwende Mutua, 45, another member of the farmer’s group. “The foods that we thought had no value, turned out to be the most valuable in terms of nutrition.” In addition to the vegetables, she has added cowpeas, pigeon peas and guava to her family’s diet. She now also adds sorghum and millet to wheat flour to enhance its nutritional value.
As key partners to FAO’s ISPP project, the extension workers from the Ministry of Agriculture have trained the farmers in conservation agriculture techniques, nutrition-sensitive crop production and utilization and aspects of agribusiness.
The project provided seeds and a solar dryer, a device used to dry food, for them to be able to preserve fruits and vegetables. Some members have already reported using dried and nutritious vegetables for long periods of time way after the rainfall season, which can last up to 4-6 months. They are also selling the dried vegetables and fruits in the local market.
Women comprise at least 50 percent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries. Like Eunice, they are critical agents of change in the fight against malnutrition. A #ZeroHunger world isn’t possible without them.
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