About 80% of Cambodia’s population live in rural areas, with roughly 40% suffering from food insecurity. That is one million people without sufficient access to healthy, nutritional food – contributing to high stunting rates in Cambodian children.
According to the National Institute of Public Health of Cambodia, 32.4% of the country’s children were stunted and 23.9% underweight in 2014 – compared to the targets of 24.5% and 19.2% respectively set in the Cambodia Millennium Development Goal (CMDG) for 2015.
A new approach to improve young children's nutrition has been developed by SNV for Cambodia Horticulture Advancing Income and Nutrition (CHAIN), a value chain development project planned to last eight years. The ‘Supermom’ concept has been established to integrate nutrition as an added value to the promotion of home gardens. The nutrition intervention specifically targets mothers with children at risk of malnutrition and is based on interactive sessions to educate both parents and children.
‘Supermom’ features a variety of materials created to educate women on nutritional values, effects of malnutrition, feeding practices, portioning, sanitation, and how to grow nutritious vegetables for daily cooking. Participatory trainings are facilitated by local partners and consist of multiple sessions over the course of a few months, allowing facilitators to closely work with the group to identify individual issues and solutions. In addition to theoretical trainings, the approach includes hands-on sessions: giving women the opportunity to learn and try out new recipes during cooking demonstrations or plan their own home garden to grow vegetables. Children are introduced to the topic through games emphasising the importance of fresh vegetables; materials are designed in a visual and playful manner to trigger their interest in the activities. The central figure is Supermom, who provides her children with two fistfuls of vegetables daily. This concept, together with Superveggies, help children become Superkids. This way, the project includes the whole family, decreasing resistance and the burden on women to implement change in their families’ diets and resulting in a more sustainable impact.
More than 5500 households have been reached so far through the Supermom concept, of which 89% report changes in their eating habits. However, women cited difficulties implementing what they had learned, as husbands resist the changes in their diets. The project aims to address this by adopting a more inclusive approach to give men a better sense about the importance of healthy eating habits within the family. The focus will shift from ‘Supermom’ to increased father involvement and sharing responsibility between parents, making the concept more suitable for families to be able to achieve long-lasting results.
Despite the ongoing development of the approach, it has already successfully initiated change. Although behavioural change on a larger scale will take time, mothers stated they have adopted the new practices, hoping to improve their children’s health: “Before, we ate vegetables only when we had some, but it was not important. Now I try to include vegetables in every meal, and I pay attention that my child really eats them.” says Lean Sovanny, a female group leader in Stung Treng.