Nutrition gatekeepers: The indispensable role of parents

ast week, CIP’s Board of Trustees meeting was held in Kigali.

CIP stands for International Potato Center; and every year, its board holds a meeting in a country of focus in different regions.

The guests included the CIP Director General and the Vice Minister of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The main focus was to find out the status of food security in the country.

During the five-day meeting, the team had a field visit in Northern Province to witness some of the collaborations CIP has in Rwanda over the years with both public and private organisations.

The officials also visited Rulindo District, then a bakery unit at Nyirangarama that uses sweet potatoes to make various products, as well as a Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) station in Musanze, and DERN, a local NGO working with CIP in Musanze.

CIP in Rwanda projects are mainly on Irish and sweet potatoes, where they conduct their activities in collaboration with RAB.

So far, they are working with five NGOs in 20 of the 30 districts in Rwanda.


The 2016/17 findings by Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey (RDHS) indicate that all forms of malnutrition have reduced in terms of stunting, underweight and anaemia to 38 per cent, 9 per cent, and 37 per cent, respectively.

However, when these figures are compared to the under-20 per cent rate recommended by World Health Organisation, it is noted that there is still more that needs to be done.

The country has made significant progress compared to 2005 when stunting was at 50 per cent.

CIP is one of the organisations that are working with the Government to help in food security, especially when it comes to fighting malnutrition and stunting.

It produces a variety of potatoes, one of them known as the orange fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) which has vital Vitamin A that helps fight stunting and malnutrition in general.


Dieudonné Bukaba, the nutrition programme coordinator at Africa Humanitarian Action (AHA) Rwanda, says Vitamin A deficiency is one of the most malign forms of undernourishment in the developing world. It limits growth, weakens immunity, affects sight, and increases mortality.

He says that statistics show that in over 140 million preschool children in 118 countries, and more than seven million pregnant women, it is the leading cause of child blindness.

However, he notes that there are some foods that can be found locally and don’t necessarily need one to be stable financially to access them, hence curb malnutrition.

Marie Nkundabombi, a nutritionist at CIP, says OFSP is one of them and that when coupled with community nutritional education, it provides high levels of Vitamin A to vulnerable populations, especially women and young children.

For instance, she says, one small boiled root of most OFSP varieties provides 100 per cent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A for children and one medium root provides all of the needs for most women of reproductive age.

“OFSP is a good source of energy, several minerals (phosphorus, potassium) and Vitamins C and K. These are vital benefits for the majority of people affected by Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) who live in rural areas where conventional VAD interventions, such as supplementation and food fortification are less effective,” she says.

To provide all the nutrients that one needs in their body, Nkundabombi says OFSP should be complimented with other foods for a balanced diet.

For instance, she says, one should put OFSP roots as an energy giving food and source of Vitamin A, add protein rich foods such as beans, peas, meat or fish, which are all body building nourishments.

On the same plate, she says, one should include more foods such as spinach, pumpkin, carrots and fruits (mangoes, banana, passion fruits, and pineapple) for the body’s protection.

Nkundabombi explains that all these complimentary foods are locally found and don’t require a lot of money to buy them as one can even plant them in their garden.

She says that this is where they train caregivers with children under five how to prepare balanced diets for the household, especially the children. These are part of the activities they embark on under the orange fleshed sweet potato projects.


Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital Kigali (CHUK), says the general cause of stunting is malnutrition, but insufficient access to food, poor water sanitation; inadequate health services, as well as inadequate maternal and child healthcare, are the main causes of stunting in children.

He says there are many diseases that are related to poor sanitation.

This, however, can be improved by embracing a culture of hand-washing, and ensuring personal and environmental hygiene.

“By doing this, it reduces the number of people suffering from communicable diseases linked to poor hygiene and sanitation, and at the same time, prevents stunting and malnutrition among children below the age of five,” he says.

Last year, the Ministry of Health put in place measures to raise awareness on hygiene and behavioural change; all this was in line with fighting malnutrition and other diseases that come with poor sanitation.

For instance, among them was the community-based ‘Environmental Health Promotion Programme’ (CBEHPP).

In this programme is a strategy called ‘Community Hygiene Club’ (CHC); where the ministry targeted to build the capacity of the communities to identify the problems they have themselves, related to poor hygiene and sanitation.

When it comes to ensuring that children under the age of five are not malnourished, Professor Joseph Mucumbitsi, a paediatrician at Oshen-King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, and president of Rwanda Heart Foundation, says there are simple activities parents can do to ensure their children don’t suffer from this.

For instance, he points out that because the problem of poor nutrition is common in rural areas, it’s ideal to teach households how to make use of the land they have.

“On a small piece of land, one can grow vegetables, and fruits such as avocado, bananas and mangoes, pumpkin, among others,” he says.

All these provide the necessary vitamins required for their children to grow and keep malnutrition at bay, he says.

On the other hand, Mucumbitsi says, parents should monitor what their children eat, and they should be in position to decide what they should eat as far as good nutrition is concerned.

“This can help prevent obesity among children, which is common in urban areas. When all this is ensured, it will be unlikely to find obese children,” he says.


As far as food security is concerned, Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi, the Governor of Northern Province, says roots and tubers of potatoes are commonly grown in Northern and Western provinces, and that there is need to put in more effort to get quality seeds for farmers for increased produce.

“The need to consume the roots and tubers increases daily, so there is need to put more effort in research on quality seeds, especially regarding changing farmers’ perspective on not only farming, but also their food security and selling their produce to take care of their families,” he says.

He says, in doing so, the country will have healthy families who will contribute to national economic growth.