A child’s physical and mental development depend on good nutrition. The most critical stages of a child’s development occur during his first thousand days—though good nutrition continues to be important to long-term development to age 5 and beyond. Malnutrition and under-nutrition during these years may lead to stunting for life. After age 5, a child’s capacity to function and learn in school is seriously affected by lack of food or micronutrient deficiencies, especially of iron, vitamin A, and iodine.
Hungry children cannot focus on their schoolwork, and micronutrient-deficient children do not learn as well and are sick more often. For girls, poor nutrition affects their reproductive development, increasing their chances of giving birth to developmentally deficient babies. Nutrition programs have been mainstreamed into IRD’s health and community livelihood programs. Some illustrative examples follow.
In Cambodia, where there is a high incidence of low birth weight, IRD is conducting operations research to explore ways to improve maternal nutrition. One idea being studied is the incorporation of new technology to measure hemoglobin in the blood to better detect and treat anemia. The new device is small, convenient, easy to use, and low cost. Another idea under study is to measure the ease and cost of providing macronutrient food supplements to pregnant women.
CHILD NUTRITION AND SCHOOL FEEDING
IRD child nutrition and school feeding programs focus on helping mothers improve their child feeding practices
and on encouraging communities to send their children to school with school feeding, sanitation and deworming initiatives, school gardens, and other incentives. Whenever possible, IRD incorporates nutrition interventions into a developmental package that includes food security, good education, maternal and child health, and agriculture systems—including improved value
chains and infrastructure.
Also in Cambodia, IRD’s child nutrition improvement program is designed to reduce the number of children under age 5 who die of or become sick due to malnutrition. The program uses the Hearth model to link mothers who successfully nourish their children to mothers of malnourished children. The mothers provide peer-to-peer training on proper feeding techniques. Through this model, IRD encourages exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of a child’s life to prevent food and waterborne infections. IRD is also socially marketing nutritionally fortified foods, oral rehydration solutions, and zinc supplements.
In Indonesia, IRD introduced a program of manufacturing and distributing fortified “snack noodles” to schoolchildren ages6 to 13. The program was combined with hygiene promotion to improve school
sanitation, training children to avoid soil-transmitted infections, and treatment of 75,000 children for worms. Students attending those schools received a package of noodles each school day over more than five years. The noodles were manufactured and packaged in Indonesia, providing long-term employment opportunities. Eventually, the noodles were offered to the public at a reasonable price , with no further need for subsidies. With IRD’s support, the concept of nutritional supplements for schoolchildren has been extended to Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
FOOD FOR EDUCATION
IRD uses commodities and funds provided by the US Department of Agriculture in countries like Liberia, where we are implementing a Food for Education program for 30,000 primary schoolchildren.
IRD is cooperating with local producers to deliver a protein-enriched beverage and snack package. In addition to providing needed protein and energy, these products are manufactured locally, creating jobs. Other incentives provided by the project include clubs that develop school-based farms and gardens and encourage children to stay in school, strengthening of parent-teacher-student associations, basic facility renovation, construction of handpumps and gender-segregated latrines, and deworming campaigns.
As a result of programs like these, parents are reporting that children who benefit from IRD nutrition and child feeding programs are healthier and more physically robust, teachers say they attend school more regularly, and are more attentive in class. And parents are sending more children to school—including girls— showing their renewed awareness of theimportance of education and of the need for their involvement.