Two years ago, about 15 cases of acute malnutrition were reported every month in Rukomo Sector, Gicumbi District.
This prompted 32 parents in the area to form a co-operative called Abashyizehamwe, and started a vegetable farm on community land that is less than an acre.
The farm is fitted with an irrigation system and a water storage facility. This provides constant water supply even during the dry season. Tomatoes, carrots, beetroot, and cabbage are grown in the garden. The harvest is blended with other foods, communally cooked, and served at a central place to all children below the age of five in the community every week.
The initiative has since seen malnutrition levels reduce from 15 children per month to five. The target is to wipe out malnutrition from the sector in the next two years.
According to Cesalie Mukayiranga, the president of the co-operative, malnutrition is screened through comparing the child’s age to their weight.
“A five-year old who weighs below 10 kilogrammes is classified as underweight,” said Lawrence Cyomugisha, the in charge of social affairs at the sector.
The co-operative is not only involved in food growing and preparation but also, does weekly sensitisation of the community about proper nutrition.
However, Alexis Mucumbitsi, of the nutrition department at the Ministry of Health, many men still think nutrition in a family is the responsibility of women alone which frustrates the campaign.
Acute malnutrition has steadily been reducing over the years as a result of such efforts. In 2010, it stood at 3 per cent, but as of April 2014, it had gone down to 0.8 per cent.
However, stunted growth is still a major threat, standing at 44 per cent among children under five, according to the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, way above the World Health Organisation’s target of 20 per cent.
Mucumbitsi said, as part of the programme, nutrition supplements like vitamin A and Iron are given out periodically.
“For instance, in March last year, 91 per cent of children under five and women who had freshly given birth got vitamin A supplements, while 94 per cent of children in the same age bracket got de-worming drugs. Other nutrition supplements given out included zinc, iron and folic acid,” he said.
The countrywide anti-malnutrition drive is sponsored by Unicef.