With last month’s G8 Summit, and the ‘Nutrition for Growth’ summit hosted in London before that, a lot of the focus has been on large amounts of international aid earmarked to combat global hunger and malnutrition.
Small-scale, localized projects play just as large a role as international aid efforts, and possibly more beneficial. The original Green Revolution increased crop yields dramatically, but at no small environmental cost. If this large-scale intervention played its role, multiple small-scale projects could produce the same results.
One such project fighting food insecurity is the Soil, Food, and Healthy Communities (SFHC) program in Malawi. This program began ten years ago with efforts to educate local farmers and diversify their crops. The original aim of the project was to improve the health, food security, and soil fertility of poor households in Northern Malawi. This goal was additionally tied into participatory research, testing legume systems and looking at more sustainable approaches to achieving greater food security.
By introducing a variety of different legume options, as well as agricultural techniques, the quality and quantity of food can both be increased, as well as improving soil quality through organic input. This Ecohealth approach, focusing on the health of the entire system and humans’ interaction with it, can be simultaneously beneficial to the communities’ short-term needs, as well as allowing for longer-term sustainability.
Ten years on from the initiation of the project there have been many encouraging signs of success. The introduction of semi-perennial rotation systems, and the diversification of crops, led in some cases to annual return yields double that of the previous system. In addition to these straightforward agricultural benefits, a further goal of SFHC was to educate the local populace regarding nutrition.
The introduction of diverse legumes into the crop rotation system improves soil quality and yield, and also diversifies the local diet. This additional food production can then directly influence the health of the children of the community. As a result of this project, child malnutrition has been reduced by two-thirds over the past ten years in a hospital catchment area serving about 70,000 people and covering 600-square kilometers. This is largely due to farmers now producing soybeans, groundnuts, and other legumes, and incorporating them into the local diet.
– David Wilson