Project unites agriculture and nutrition to combat child stunting in Chin State

29 June 2016
Project unites agriculture and nutrition to combat child stunting in Chin State
Photo: Hong Sar/Mizzima

The Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development (MIID) in cooperation with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences of Cornell University, in New York, has been awarded a 3-year project to improve the nutrition of rural communities in Chin State, the MIID said in a statement on 28 June.
Funded by the Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), the project will address the root causes of malnutrition that plague the state, which make it rank among the lowest in the nation on indicators of child nutrition.
“In 2014, when MIID, with support from Danida and UNICEF, assisted the Chin State Government and civil society to prepare the 5-year Comprehensive Development Plan for 2016–2020, with an accompanying Local Social Plan, our research highlighted the fact that almost 60% of the children in Chin State have stunted growth, compared with 30% at national level " stated Joern Kristensen, Executive Director of MIID.  "Through the participatory planning process, this unacceptable high rate of malnutrition among children became recognized as the key indicator of the need for economic and social development in the state."
To address this crucial issue, the new project proposes an integrated approach to combating lack of nutrition; one that combines government efforts, community engagement, assistance by technical specialists, as well as academic preparation for the next generation of agricultural extension worker’s understanding of the important linkage between agriculture and nutrition.
A main component of the project is to develop a platform for collaboration between Cornell University specialists and Myanmar's agricultural education institutions, specifically Yezin Agricultural University and the new State Agricultural Institute in Lungpi, Chin State, that opened in 2015. The aim is to include nutrition education in the curriculum of future agriculture graduates, to build higher awareness of the importance of including nutrition information in agricultural extension services to farmers.   
"Insufficient nutrition is frequently viewed as a health issue," commented Cornell University Representative in Myanmar, MIID Advisory Board member, Dr. Khin Mar Cho, "But in communities where agriculture is the predominant livelihood and access to health care is poor, agriculture and diet can play a vital role in addressing the issue of malnutrition. If agricultural extension can be improved and a nutritional component included, it can have the dual benefit of improving crops and yields but also improving the farmers understanding of what foods to feed his children to ensure they grow up strong and healthy."
The project, to begin implementation in June 2016, will also include direct extension services to farmers and communities through participatory and hands-on learning experiences such as farmer field schools, nutrition training, and nutritious cooking demonstrations.
"We have many lessons to build on from our farmer field schools in other hilly areas of the country," said David Abrahamson, MIID's Program Manager for Agriculture and Natural Resource Management.  "Yet helping farmers and communities to adapt to changing conditions in the environment, economic markets, and broader society requires a localized approach. Context research and participation of local communities will be key to a successful outcome."