Behavioral change for Improved Nutrition among Pastoralists in Ethiopia

Pastoralists in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is one of the countries who managed to meet the nutrition target of MDG 1 by reducing the rate of stunting from 58% in 2000 to 40% in 2014 and wasting from 12% in 2000 to 9% in 2014.[1] Currently, the country is working towards the nutrition targets of SDG2. As of 2016, 38% of children in Ethiopia are chronically malnourished and 10% are acutely malnourished. [2]

However, the picture in pastoral areas like Somali Region of Ethiopia shows that the under-served and hard to reach segments of the population of the country need tailored ways to address the still prevailing situation of undernutrition. In Somali Region of Ethiopia, the prevalence of stunting (chronic malnutrition) is 27.4% as of 2016. In addition, the region has the highest proportion of children with acute malnutrition from all regions of Ethiopia having 22.7% wasting rate. Somali Region also has the highest prevalence of anaemia in children with a rate of 82.6% as compared to the national prevalence of 56%. Moreover, 12.8% of children in Somali region have severe anaemia. The highest prevalence of anaemia in women is also seen in Somali Region with 59% prevalence compared to 23% nationally. [3]

Nutrition sensitive interventions by VSF-Suisse in Ethiopia

To contribute to addressing the need to nutrition interventions in pastoral areas as Somali Region of Ethiopia, VSF-Suisse has implemented different nutrition sensitive interventions in the region. Linking agricultural and livestock interventions to community-based nutrition has been a flagship activity of the VSF-Suisse (and of the Ethiopia Programme in particular). Owing to the fact that the nutrition needs of under-served communities cannot be addressed by direct nutrition interventions alone, VSF-Suisse had nutrition sensitive livestock based interventions where animal source foods sourced from local markets like meat and milk were availed to households hosting children recurrently affected by acute malnutrition and recurrently admitted to therapeutic feeding centers. These interventions have proven to show changes on the availability of animal source foods at the household level.

To showcase one of these interventions in Kebriderhar and Shilabo Woredas of Somali region of Ethiopia in 2013, where 9 milking goats were provided to households hosting children affected by recurrent malnutrition, change was observed in the targeted households in terms of acute malnutrition, measured through MUAC (Mid-Upper Arm Circumference). A decreased percentage of children with MUAC <11cm from 33% before the intervention to 0% at 4 months after the provision of milking goats was observed. The percentage of children with MUAC for age <-3 SD, showing signs of acute malnutrition, had decreased from 56.8% before the intervention to 12.3% after the intervention.

Availing Animal Source Food was not Sufficient

In the intervention mentioned above, even though change was observed on one of the nutrition indicator of the targeted children, MUAC for age, it was noteworthy to observe that after they were provided with milking goats, none of the mothers were breastfeeding (from 12% before the intervention). This was one of the signals that availing animal source foods for households does not necessarily ensure the improvement of the overall nutrition situation and optimal nutrition practices. The main lesson drawn was that nutrition sensitive interventions are beyond linking specific livestock relief interventions with nutrition outcomes. This ignited the idea of thinking on optimal behavioral change communication interventions which suits pastoral areas like Somali Region of Ethiopia. The option lies on whether to integrate the conventional nutrition education or IEC/BCC interventions to our nutrition sensitive interventions or to look for other sustainable means of channeling our important message on optimal maternal, infant and young child nutrition practices.

Pastoral Community Platforms

Among the rural pastoral communities of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State, VSF-Suisse has used the community platforms of Pastoral Field Schools (PFS) and Village Community Banks (VICOBAs) to improve communities’ resilience to recurring episodes of drought and other emergencies. The PFS approach is an adaptation of the interactive Farmer Field Schools (FFS) approach developed by the UN-FAO in Indonesia in 1989.  They are groups of community members who meet periodically to pool their observations on livestock production and on rangeland management and to experiment new production systems. VICOBAs, meanwhile, comprise groups of mainly women who are trained and then meet regularly to organise collective saving and loans for times of emergency or crisis.

Given that both of these pastoral community platforms are now integrated features of their communities, they have shown to have tremendous cumulative benefit by equipping them with critical nutrition-related messages.

The BCIN-Action Research

The action research entitled ‘Behavioral Change for Improved Nutrition among pastoralists in Ethiopia’ (BCIN) thus intended to bridge the knowledge gaps by providing the scientific evidence on the outcome of integrating Behavioral Change Communication (BCC) interventions into the routine activities of the existing pastoral platforms, the PFS and VICOBA groups.

BCIN was a quasi-experimental research conducted in two pastoralist districts, Moyale and Mubarek of Somali Region of Ethiopia. The action research evaluated both intervention communities and comparison communities where the intervention did not take place with the aim of appraising the impact of channeled messages on key nutrition practices. In line with this, a total of 942 mothers having children 0-23 months were interviewed, 471 of them were in each study leg.

As a result, the number of mothers who heard about exclusive breastfeeding, optimal young child feeding practices, food safety and personal hygiene through the PFS and VICOBA were higher for the intervention communities compared to the comparison communities.

One of the main findings of the action research shows that exclusive breast feeding, food safety and hygiene are influenced by the mother’s age, educational status, income, and prior information on the issues. It is also observed that 85.5% of the mothers in the intervention groups reported receiving the information through the community platforms compared to 14.2% from other sources. Also, the action research found out that pastoral- community platforms have potential for channeling messages on key maternal, infant and young-child nutrition practices.

[1] MDG report of Ethiopia, 2014

[2] Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey, 2016

[3] Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey, 2016

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