Marita and other women in Ntchisi district registering for a WFP-supported programme to prevent stunting. Copyright: WFP/Rachael Wilson.
WFP is helping to build a more nutrition-secure Malawi through an innovative programme aimed at preventing stunting. Some 47 percent of Malawian children have stunted growth -- one of the highest rates in Africa.
The prevalence of undernutrition causing stunting in children under five is particularly alarming in Malawi - nearly half of all children are stunted. This is due to a lack of micronutrients that causes delays in growth and cognitive development which are often irreversible. To address this problem, WFP set about registering young mothers and children at health centres in Ntchisi district as part of its stunting prevention programme.
Marita Kasambwe, now pregnant with her fourth child, is one of the women in the programme. Though she has enough maize porridge to feed her children, she recognizes that maize alone will not provide the micronutrients necessary to maximize her children’s growth, development, and learning potential. But she doubts she can solve the problem on her own.
A recent survey showed that 60 percent of households in Malawi have poor to borderline food consumption, and that 50 percent of children eat items from only one or two food groups (Emergency Food Security Assessment 2013). This is much fewer than the minimum of four food groups recommended by the World Health Organization.
A new approach
WFP’s Prevention of Stunting programme, funded by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), aims to reduce the prevalence of childhood stunting in Ntchisi district by 5-10 percent. By helping children to first survive, and then thrive and grow into adults, this programme should ultimately contribute to national development through greater productivity and higher lifetime earnings. The project targets children up to two years of age and their mothers. Starting in January 2014, it will run for three and a half years.
WFP and its partner World Vision are working with the Government of Malawi to pilot an innovative approach to address stunting, founded on the latest evidence about the most effective nutrition and hygiene interventions. This project will deliver the right foods at the right time and aims to improve education about feeding practices as well as access to proper nutrition.
A stunting-focused communications campaign has also been initiated to increase awareness about best infant and child feeding practices, hygiene, and the use of a lipid-based nutrient supplement, Nutributter, which will be provided to all registered children aged 6 to 23 months.
The project will be implemented through a community-based care group to empower and mobilize the community to ensure sustained effectiveness. Through the care group volunteers, women will share knowledge on how to provide a diverse diet to their children and also about hygiene and care practices. The programme has enlisted health surveillance assistants to ensure a sustainable link between these programme activities and other health services.
National and global movement
This programme is part of the Scaling Up Nutrition movement which aims to ensure that all people have a right to food and good nutrition.
WFP is also a partner in the groundbreaking Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) study which is currently focusing on Malawi. Early data from the study of other African countries confirms the huge impact that undernutrition and stunting can have on economies.
Children who suffer from undernutrition are more likely to achieve lower educational levels, often making them less qualified for work, in turn reducing their income-earning potential in adulthood. The World Bank estimates that as a result of stunting, countries see a 3% loss of GDP and 22% loss to earnings by individuals as adults.
Given the wide range of health-related and economic impacts involved, it is clear that undernutrition and stunting represent a vital development issue in Malawi – one that is attracting increasing attention across all sectors.