Women’s role in reversing malnutrition

Women’s role in reversing malnutrition

Malnutrition and stunting among children in Lao PDR remains unacceptably high, impacting their health and irreversibly limiting their future potential. As women often oversee food consumption and availability within the household, SNV examined their key role in reversing this trend.

In a recent national mapping research report, SNV analysed the agriculture, nutrition and gender situation in Lao PDR, using a combination of online research, interviews with concerned government ministries, and interviews with INGOs operating projects in these sectors. The mapping exercise was done to understand the food security and nutritional status of people in target project areas.

The findings highlighted that the poor nutritional status in Lao PDR remains very serious. In the 2013 Global Hunger Index, Lao PDR ranked 25th out of 56 countries. The Lao PDR Nutrition Centre of Ministry of Health, reports that insufficient maternal breast feeding causes 24 percent of child mortality under one year of age. Further, according to data from 2012, 44.2 percent of children under five years were stunted, with 26.8 percent underweight. Whilst in 13 out of 17 provinces, stunting levels are higher than World Health Organisation’s (WHO) critical threshold of 40 percent.

The prevalence of malnutrition in the country is closely linked with poverty and geography, in turn largely affecting children in rural areas. These households are also likely to have lower educational attainment.

In terms of addressing issues of hunger and malnutrition, it is difficult to extricate these problems from their relationship with agricultural practices and gender issues. Low education of women and mothers can greatly affect the nutrition status of the whole family, as women play an important role in agricultural production and natural resource management as they are often responsible for food security at the household level. Lack of knowledge of nutritious food for pregnant women or babies and lack of appropriate child feeding and care practices can contribute greatly to children’s stunting.

Agriculture also plays a key role in nutrition, as lack of diversity of crops year-round or focus on cash crop production, rather than diversified crops, affects the nutritional choices that families have. The results of this survey will be used as a basis for designing future strategies and approaching in addressing food security and malnutrition issues. Based on these results, integrated agriculture programmes must be implemented, in order to address food and nutrition security and gender awareness together.

SNV has undertaken the Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture project in Lao PDR and 3 other countries (Nepal, Cambodia and Indonesia). This programme implements SNV's Sustainable Nutrition 4 All solution which leverages behaviour change, knowledge and skill capacity to support rural communities to improve production, vary their dietary intake, and change consumption patterns to ensure sufficient nutritious foods for young children and women of childbearing age.