What is the silver bullet in the battle against malnutrition in Rwanda?
The discussion around Rwanda’s nutrition is anchored on three pillars: food availability/accessibility, consumption modalities and the nutritional efficacy as a result.
Despite having managed to lower the occurrence of low birthweight to 6.2% and that of overweight children under five to 7.7%, the country of 12 million is still fighting to reduce the rate of stunting from 38% to 18% by 2018. The target is quite ambitious since the change in stunting between 2010 and 2014 was 6% according to the respective Demographic & Health Survey findings.
With a government that has been known to deliver on ambitious prospects and bearing in mind that stunting can only be prevented and not treated, the question ceases to be whether Rwanda will slash stunting and instead becomes how this change can be effected.
In 2016, SNV Rwanda ventured into evidence-based advocacy and selected food and nutrition security as the main area of focus. Through the Voice for Change (V4C) Partnership, SNV is strengthening five civil society organisations (CSOs) and one nutrition CSO alliance to effectively voice their views on food and nutrition security in Rwanda in a dynamic and increasingly global context. After conducting a context analysis, the V4C partners concluded that the issue is not the lack of food, but that available food is wrongly consumed and the calorie intake is either imbalanced or insufficiently extracted.
Therefore, they turned to food fortification as a possible way out of the stunting rut, especially among poor rural households. In the five-year tenure of the DGIS-funded project, discussions and advocacy efforts are set to focus on:
The role of the private sector in food fortification
Analysis of policies governing food and nutrition security and how well they are positioning fortification as a solution
The supply constraints surrounding the fortification industry
And most importantly, who shoulders the cost of fortified food products.
While Rwanda has registered 87% traction in breastfeeding, reducing stunting will take more than behaviour change communication. It will take deliberate collaboration between civil society organisations and government officials to sensitise the public to make different nutrition choices and shift their mindset about fortified food products. The V4C partners foresee the need to partner heavily with the private sector, mainly processors, although the foreseeable ramification of increased demand for fortified food products is a considerable and possibly unsustainable stretch on locally produced grain. The average farmer in rural Rwanda produces enough for subsistence owing to the per capita arable land.
The challenges appear daunting at this stage but hope abounds in the form of localised solutions and opinion shapers. One V4C partner – Duhamic Adri – has succeeded in strengthening pro-poor public private partnerships to fight malnutrition through ensuring visibility and the benefits of smallholder farmers in the soya and maize value chains. Duhamic-Adri is a CSO that owns 90% stake in a food processing and fortification company, Sosoma, and is also one of the five CSOs that have been selected to implement the Voice 4 Change project in Rwanda.
Through transfer of knowledge and coordination of stakeholders, the battle against malnutrition can be won!