Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition (RAIN) is a project designed and implemented by Concern Worldwide, Mumbwa Child Development Agency, and the International Food Policy Research Institute to promote agricultural productivity through farming and cooking different vegetables in the Central Province of Zambia. Though it was created to address chronic malnutrition in communities in Zambia, the project ended up having a much wider influence by also establishing a massive, sustainable social impact in their communities.
Malnutrition, an unhealthy condition that is caused by a lack of proper nutrients or having enough to eat, has been established as one of the leading causes of death in the world, especially for children under five years of age. Zambia has been particularly susceptible to malnutrition—almost half the children of Zambia are malnourished, adding up to about one million children. This has serious implications for their future health and well-being. According to the UN’s Standing Committee on Nutrition, malnutrition is the largest contributor of susceptibility to disease, leading to poor physical and mental development in later years. Multiple attempts have been made to decrease the impacts of malnutrition through nutrition programs, prioritization of the 1,000-day window, or the promotion of food banks. What RAIN aims to accomplish compared to those other options, however, is to provide a more sustainable and effective solution.
RAIN works by emphasizing the importance of nutritious diets in families in the District of Mumbwa and the methods—farming, husbandry, and cooking—to achieve improved infant and young child feeding and greater gender equality. While the project was intended for infants and pregnant or new mothers, its reach was much wider: it has had a profound and lasting effect on the rural communities in Zambia. This is because RAIN uses different methods to tackle malnutrition at its core, such as planting and maintaining gardens, teaching women how to cook and preserve nutrient-packed crops and vegetables using well-covered solar driers provided by the project, and community health outreach programs that teach new mothers about proper nutrition practices for themselves and their children. The result is not only female empowerment, but also a revitalization of the local economy.
PATH spoke to Richard Mwape, Concern Worldwide’s District Program Coordinator in Mumbwa, and he explained in detail about the crops that were promoted through the project. Maize is commonly grown and cooked by Zambians, and in order to reduce malnutrition and to give the community members the necessary “diversification of micronutrients,” it was crucial to introduce new vegetables. By showing the Mumbwa community the different kinds of vegetables that offer exceptional nutritional value, along with how to best cook these nutrient-rich foods, they were given options to incorporate these vegetables into their diets on a daily basis. Vegetables such as amaranth, often regarded as a weed, are nutritious and can grow on their own. Eggplants, referred to as impua, have also been successfully grown in communities. Farmers grew pumpkins as well, which have been especially beneficial because their leaves are also edible. Other successfully grown vegetables and crops include carrots, okra, sweet potato vines, soybeans, and groundnuts.
By tending to and selling these vegetables, the rural communities of Zambia were able to experience not only the monetary success of their hard work, but also experience the rich satisfaction of self-sustainability. Richard discussed how people sold their vegetables not just in their district, but also in places outside their localities, thereby increasing their businesses. By doing so, they could afford to buy additional products for themselves and their farms, such as watering cans and pesticides, to take special care of their crops. They could also then afford school fees for their children, and purchase other household necessities that increased their quality of life.
A key success of the RAIN project is increase of women empowerment in Zambia, and the promotion of gender equity, which seemed to come naturally through the implementation and growth of the project. Concern Worldwide developed an extension of RAIN, called RAIN+, which focuses primarily on social accountability in addition to gender equality. RAIN+ has given women in RAIN the opportunity to educate, advise, and present the skills and methods they learned about farming and crop tending to women who are new to the program. These women are also called upon to facilitate training, to talk about how they work with the government through the project’s services, and to discuss their successes and challenges. By doing so, their confidence and pride in their work has increased, and they have become leaders in their communities.
The involvement of the men in the community is also regarded as a noteworthy success of the project. Richard described the husbands of the farmer women as “critical partners in the success of RAIN.” Men who were initially uninterested in the project grew to participate and care about farming and cooking the crops, and their involvement created a strong sense of community, unity, and respect.
This project has impacted the Zambian community in every facet of life and has ultimately created a sustainable lifestyle for families who otherwise would have seen the effects of malnutrition trickle into their future. Instead, RAIN provides hope by establishing not only the resources for a better future, but also the tools for the community to keep it going. RAIN represents that which the idea of community health stands for: not only the revitalization of physical well-being through proper public health practices, but also creating a sense of economic and social sustainability that increases the spirit of community.
The final report of the RAIN project is available here.
Article by PATH intern Sara Mannan.
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