Since the year 2000 Seeds of Life (SoL) has been active in reducing hunger in Timor-Leste, and is now taking steps to further integrate nutrition into its food security efforts.
58% of Timor-Leste’s population experiences reduced growth as a result of malnutrition, placing it among the worst in the world from a nutritional perspective.
Furthermore, 38% of people in Timor-Leste suffer from anaemia: a decreased number of red blood cells often caused by iron deficiency. Anaemia can have severe health consequences.
To help change these figures SoL has enlisted a renowned nutrition advisor, Jessica Fanzo, who toured the country this month and met widely with stakeholders to assess and advise how the MAF-SoL program can be more “nutrition sensitive”.
“Nutrition sensitive agriculture involves asking how we can add nutrition elements to existing programs. It’s not creating new programs but building on what’s already there,” Jessica said.
“There is still a lot of hunger in this country which MAF-SoL and others are helping to address, but it’s not just about feeding people, it’s also about feeding people well.”
One of Fanzo’s recommendations is that SoL considers testing other more nutritionally improved crop varieties.
However, She acknowledged that SoL had already introduced, tested and released Hohrae 3, a popular sweet potato variety. Just one cup a day of the yellow-fleshed tuber meets a person’s daily requirements for Vitamin A, essential for sight.
Another suggestion was to use the networks established by MAF-SoL, through Suco Extension Officers, women’s groups and Community Seed Producing Groups, to share information about nutrition with farming families.
However, Fanzo stresses that agriculture is just one part of the multi-sectorial approach the problem requires.
“Improving maternal and early childhood nutrition is not just about food, it’s about clean water and sanitation, healthcare and childcare too,” she said.
“Things like stopping breastfeeding early and then feeding the child poor complementary foods are major causes of stunting.”
When Fanzo returns to Timor-Leste around March 2013 she will run nutrition improvement trainings for MAF-SoL staff and other interested stakeholders.
She will also facilitate a consultation workshop to engage the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Education and leading international NGOs to discuss how best to collaborate to solve the nutrition problem.