Literacy_in_AfghanistanNutrition and Education International (NEI) is aiding the Afghanistan government in carrying out nutrition programs that aim to improve literacy in Afghanistan.

Education has been a priority of the Afghan government postwar, but childhood stunting is affecting brain health and learning development in Afghan children. Studies have linked childhood stunting to poor cognitive development.

A third of Afghanistan’s population falls short of daily calorie needs, with 20 percent of the population lacking enough protein in their diet and 40 percent of children ‘stunted,’ or small for their age.

“A malnourished mother has a higher risk of delivering a fetus that is malnourished, small for its gestational age, and sometimes even premature,” explained child-health expert Zulfiqar Bhutta. “By virtue of this handicap, these babies often have issues with lifelong learning.”

To tackle the issue of food security in Afghanistan, NEI has been working with local governments and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to encourage the farming of soybeans.

Soybean was selected because it contains high-quality protein, zinc, iron and plenty of calories. In a country recovering from a war, cultivating soybeans is the most economical option.

NEI program has also provided employment and education for Afghans. NEI has trained over 70,000 farmers on cultivating soybeans and how to turn them into flour and milk.

Soybean is not a traditional part of the Afghan diet or landscape and the endeavor was initially met with criticisms, but with government support and local trainers that teach villagers about the benefits of soy, the program has expanded.

In 2014, the Republic of Korea contributed $12 million to the WFP to build Afghanistan’s first soy milk factory. The leftover soybean pulp will be distributed to local women as chicken feed in order to encourage them to raise poultry and generate income.

NEI aims to eliminate protein malnutrition all over Afghanistan by aid farmers in producing 300,000 metric tons of soybeans, which in turn will provide growing children with more protein in their diets, which then has a direct effect on increasing literacy in Africa.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: WFP, Project Literacy
Photo: Google Images


As Nutrition Improves, Developing Countries Get Smarter
To say poverty is a complex issue is an understatement. The conditions that lead to and perpetuate poverty occur across levels, making it different for individuals, organizations and governments to address. Targeting initiatives toward healthy individual development is imperative to reduce poverty in the long-term.

Poverty, at its core, is a stressor. An inability to gain access to proper nutrition, quality medical care and education greatly affect the well-being of individuals and families.

For children, the effects of extreme poverty are magnified, which has implications for brain development, psychological well-being and ability to handle conflict. Iodine deficiency, which is common in developing countries, can lead to neural tube defects during pregnancy, especially if the fetus is female.

Iodine deficiency is the most common preventable cause of mental retardation in children; the CDC estimates that 18 million children worldwide are born disabled as a result of the deficiency. Currently, two billion people are at risk for iodine deficiency.

Iodine, in addition to other micronutrients, is critical for healthy brain development and functioning. Initiatives to address micronutrient deficiency work to not only reduce world hunger but also ensure that children can have healthy brain development.

Ensuring healthy brain development is not just preventing deficiencies, it gives children increased potential to develop abstract thinking skills. As noted by James Flynn, a psychologist who researches global patterns of IQ scores, intelligence increases as societies modernize.

Through modernization, individuals are more likely to have access to education, have more cognitively demanding work and utilize logic more often in their daily lives. In turn, critical thinking becomes more necessary and there is a need for individuals to have strong working memory and abstract thinking skills.

Flynn has also documented the “Flynn Effect”: as societies develop, the average IQ score increases. This is happening rapidly in developing countries; Kenya, for example, has seen an eleven point increase in IQ scores over a fourteen-year period. In contrast, the U.S. has seen an eighteen point increase over a 55-year period.

While it is difficult to untangle all of the factors contributing to developing countries’ increasing IQ scores, access to education and better nutrition are most likely strong influences on this gain. These countries are developing and modernizing simultaneously, which accelerates the increase in intelligence scores.

Flynn also argues that, in developed countries, the trend towards smaller families have exposed children to more adult speech, which further improves a child’s intelligence. Perhaps it is arguable, too, that as impoverished communities gain access to medical care and family planning and the birth rate reduces, these children reap similar benefits.

As organizations continue to implement programs fighting world hunger and reducing micronutrient deficiencies, this gain in IQ scores for developing countries is an important reminder that at its core, development work is an investment.

Investing in nutrition for individuals in poverty can bring better brain health, which leads to improved academic performance and increased resiliency, thus empowering people both now and in the future.

Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: CDC, Vintage Books, Scientific American, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

Breadfruit Could Solve World Hunger
What is breadfruit? Although it sounds fictitious, it is actually a real food with the potential to contribute to the eradication of world hunger.

Breadfruit is shaped like a football and has a prickly texture. The fruit grows on trees and is highly nutritious. It is not well known because many people find it bland and tasteless.

However, there are 6 reasons why food critics should stop turning up their noses at this fruit and they all pertain to helping starving people.

  1. Breadfruit is native to the Pacific Islands and grows best in sunny and humid climates. About 80 percent of the world’s hungry live in tropical and subtropical regions. Because these regions are best for these trees, the fruit has the potential to feed thousands of hungry people.
  2. Breadfruit trees grow easily and begin to bear fruit within three to five years. They are not high maintenance and continue to produce fruit for decades. On average, larger trees can produce between 400-600 fruits while smaller trees can produce approximately 100 fruits.
  3. Breadfruit is nutritious. It is high in fiber, carbohydrates, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, thiamine, and niacin.
  4. Breadfruit can be prepared in a variety of ways including fried, frozen, fermented, pickled, boiled, baked, and roasted. It can also be ground into flour.
  5. Currently, there are pilot projects working to distribute the fruit to places in need such as Honduras and the Caribbean. The Breadfruit Institute in Hawaii is a member of the Alliance to End Hunger. With their hard work and the work of other organizations such as Trees That Feed Foundation, breadfruit has fed people in Jamaica, Kenya, and Haiti.
  6. There are many fans advocating for the fruit. Olelo pa’a Faith Ogawa, a private chef says, “I feel it’s the food of the future. If I were to speak to the breadfruit spirit, it would tell me: ‘Grow me! Eat me! It can feed villages!’”

Kelsey Parrotte

Sources: Business Insider, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post

On August 1, 2014, the United Nations kicked off World Breastfeeding Week in the hopes of launching a worldwide initiative to educate and encourage more mothers to breastfeed. World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in 170 countries around the world from August 1 to August 7.

This year’s particular celebration is focused on promoting the link between breastfeeding and the Millennium Development Goals, especially MDG 4: decreasing child mortality.

Among the United Nations officials launching the start of this week was Executive Director of the U.N. Children’s Fund, Anthony Lake. In a statement marking the importance of World Breastfeeding Week, Lake stressed, “Immediate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth could prevent one in five unnecessary deaths…that’s more than 500,000 children every year, more than 1,500 children every day.”

Breastfeeding not only supplies good nutrition for infants, but also reduces the risk of malnourishment and the risk of obesity later in life. “By supporting nutrition and strengthening the bond between mother and child,” said Lake, “breastfeeding also supports healthy brain development.” Breastfeeding also helps prevent growth stunting, a tragedy that affects millions of children every year both physically and cognitively.

Although breastfeeding is the most cost-effective and healthy way to support young babies, fewer than half of the world’s newborns are breastfed regularly.

In order to change this, UNICEF is working with governments and local communities to end false marketing and the use of breast milk substitutes, in order to make it easier for women to breastfeed their infants.

Dr. Noel Zagre, the UNICEF Regional Nutrition Advisor for Equatorial and Southern Africa, explained that too often people talk about breastfeeding in general terms. However, the important thing is to teach mothers how to breastfeed effectively, meaning putting the child on breast milk no more than an hour after birth and continuing to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life.

Although the number of children under the age of five that die each year has declined in recent decades, there are still nearly seven million that die every year. Forty percent of these children are newborns.

Dr. Zagre noted evidence that “many countries are not yet doing very well even though we know that we have also observed a lot of progress in other countries…some countries are still having very low exclusive breastfeeding rates like five percent while others are…reaching 89 to 95 percent.”

The United Nations is determined to institute plans to promote breastfeeding and educate communities and governments around the world about infant health and the importance of breastfeeding effectively. Although progress has been slow, Dr. Zagre noted the importance of bridging the gap between these startling statistics.

– Cambria Arvizo

Sources: UN 1, UN 2, All Africa
Photo: Tribune

fish drying
A new fish drying method pioneered by a tiny U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization project in Burundi has had tremendous results. Instead of laying the sardine-like ngagala in the hot sand, raised racks were implemented to dry the fish. This simple strategy has cut fish waste by half, created employment for hundreds of Burundians and caused a boost in the economic prospects of fishing.

Ndagala have been a staple of the Burundian diet for centuries. With some 60 percent of Burundians currently lacking the essential amount of protein in their diets, the nutrients from ndagala are a precious commodity.

However, before the FAO project, the ndagala drying process was wasteful, inefficient and extremely physically taxing.

The old method of drying the fish took place on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Burundi. Women laborers would lay the ndagala on the sand to dry in the sun, where they were easy targets for animals and ran the risk of being trampled and contaminated.

According to the FAO, around 15 percent of the fish catch was lost or spoiled during the drying process.

But 10 years ago, with the help of Burundi’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FAO launched a project in a village called Mvugo. This project installed 48 cheap wire-mesh racks suspended a meter above the ground, offered training and distributed leaflets on how to build the racks.

The benefits of this tiny project were almost immediately apparent.

This new method reduced drying time from three days, to only eight hours. The racks protect the fish from animals, and can be covered from the rain to prevent spoilage. Workers need not bend over to spread and turn the fish, reducing the physical toll of the labor.

The overall quality of the fish improved. According to rack owner Domitien Ndabaneze, “Our fishes are of a good quality without small gravel or stones and they are dried in hygienic conditions. With our products, customers are no longer concerned with eating sandy fish.”

The price of fish has more than doubled, from 4,000 Burundian francs in 2004 ($2.5/kg), to 9000 ($6/kg) in 2013. The increasingly lucrative trade has attracted more men workers, and the total acreage dedicated to fishing on the shores of Lake Tanganyika has expanded dramatically.

Manufacturers of the racks have sprung up on the coastline, and thanks to the increased shelf life of the fish they can be transported inland to feed other Burundi villages.

This impactful project is an example of how small-scale solutions can have large-scale benefits. The FAO plans to continually promote and strengthen the use of drying racks in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, in hopes that more villagers will experience the life-improving benefits of this simple invention.

–Grace Flaherty

Sources: FAO, UN
Photo: UN

The average person makes approximately 200 food-related decision per day. This statistic makes it seem as though food is one of the few things over which we have control. Or do we? While the choice is entirely up to each individual, do we always have all the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision?

Socially learning which foods are poisonous and which are nutritious was a crucial evolutionary step. But in the era of the grocery store, information about food is abundant and often confusing. What is more, food information provided by labels, the media or even so-called independent reviewers usually comes with ulterior motives.

According to Public Health Perspectives blogger, Beth Skwarecki, the concept of nutrition can be manipulated for marketing purposes or to even create a fear fad. Take, for example, the controversial topic of genetically modified organisms. There is so much information both against and for it that most of the information is more confusing than informative to consumers.

As a teacher of nutrition at a community college, Skwarecki says that it is important for people to develop their “baloney detectors.” Once you understand the science behind each topic, it is much easier to make an informed decision.

This method might work in developed countries, but what about people in poor countries? Residents of the industrialized world have better access to information, so that if someone takes the time to research the issue, he or she can make better food choices. But what about people in developing nations that depend on foreign aid to cover their most basic nutritional needs?

Low income and food insecure people are the most vulnerable to lack of nutrition. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, while substantial progress has been made over the last decade in agricultural practices, progress in nutrition and health of poor farmers and consumers in developing countries is still slow.

One of the strategies proposed is to increase access to nutritional food. However, this also means implementing educational programs that would allow people to understand where their food comes from, and where to find the most added-value nutrition.

So whether it is for people in advanced nations or in the developing world, one of the most important elements to nutrition is having access to correct information. In the end, this comes back to the most basic notion of having a say in what we eat, and how we allow the content of our food to impact our lives.

-Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Public Health Perspectives, International Food Policy Research Institute
Photo: The World Bank

In 1973, the sci-fi film “Soylent Green” portrayed a dystopian future society characterized by overpopulation and the effects of global warming in which the people ate wafers to survive. At the film’s conclusion, everyone becomes privy to the fact that the wafers are actually made of people. Four decades later, a group of three men in their twenties have taken the idea of everyone eating one easy food to survive and produced their own product called Soylent, thankfully people free.

When Rob Rhinehart and his team sat down to create this meal replacement, they decided that they needed to pull out all of the essential nutrients needed for health and functioning and combine them to make one super drink. With that goal in mind, they developed a powdered drink with what has been described as a “doughy” nature. You add water, drink a meal’s worth and you can power through the rest of your day.

Soylent consists of sodium, fatty acids, zinc, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, fiber, protein, iron, magnesium and a slew of vitamins. Despite its name, there are only trace amounts of soy, and Rhinehart’s team is currently in the process of getting a gluten-free version out on the market. Rhinehart claims that you can live on Soylent, and Soylent has made up 90 percent of his diet for the past year and a half.

There is speculation, however, about how much necessary nutrition one actually gets from living off of Soylent. Lee Hutchinson from Ars Technica, who has purchased large boxes of Soylent to supplement the occasional meal, has written numerous articles about living on Soylent and what Soylent could mean for busy, anti-cooking people. She explains that, while the types and amounts of nutrients in Soylent are based on U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances, “It’s still not wholly certain that simply hitting roughly 100 percent of the RDA standards is enough.”

Likely in anticipation of this criticism, Rhinehart stated that the ingredient list would change and evolve as their product made progress on the market.

So far, Soylent is being marketed toward the busy workaholics who simply can’t fit in the time for meal preparation and would rather mix up a powdered drink to get them through the day. As an added plus, Soylent is markedly cheaper than weekly groceries, with a month’s supply costing only $70.

Little is being said, though, about how Soylent could prove to be an important product in feeding the world’s hungry. The past and current packaged food products that are being sent to impoverished areas like sub-Saharan Africa have had mixed success. MANA nutrition, which produces packets of peanut paste that require little preparation, are cheap and instrumental in helping bring people back from the brink of starving to death. What it lacks is the minimal nutrition Soylent provides people — something that is important in improving quality of life.

Another widely used food supplement was produced as a powdered milk substance, similar to Soylent in that you simply add water. Again, there is a lack of essential nutrients in milk, but it was easy for many families and efficient to produce and distribute.

One issue that Soylent would face, were it implemented as a source of food aid, is the water mixing aspect. In some poverty-stricken areas, plentiful, not to mention clean, water is often a precious resource rather than an abundant luxury. This is an issue that the powdered milk supplement faced, as the lowest possible maintenance necessary will often see the best results.

There are other potential problems with providing people with Soylent to survive on. Innovative Development brings up the fact that chewing is an essential action to establish proper functioning of the digestive system. They also explore the option that people who have been exposed to war and famine may have different dietary needs. The introduction of Soylent to a fragile body system may have unforeseen negative effects, particularly on children whose bodies are just developing.

At this point, Soylent isn’t necessarily ready to be shipped out en masse to Africa, but it does have its perks for addressing world hunger. Often, approaches to feeding the poor focus on survival, which is of course an important aspect. But beyond that, nutrition is incredibly important for establishing a healthy, stable society where people can be productive and live in a happy environment.

– Magdalen Wagner

Sources: The New Yorker, Ars Technica, Soylent, Innovate Development, Seattle Gluten Free

1,000 days
The fact remains that undernutrition is completely and indisputably preventable.

Yet this condition continues to claim the lives of 2.6 million children each year. This is more than any other disease, making malnutrition the leading cause of death among young children.

In September of 2010, U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and then-Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, took a stand to fight this deadly disease.

The two diplomats, along with a community of global leaders, launched the 1,000 Days Partnership. This movement promotes action and investment in nutrition during the 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until a child’s 2nd birthday.

Why 1,000 days? Leading scientists, economists and health experts all agree that the proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days of pregnancy and the life of an infant “have a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and rise out of poverty.”

When a woman is undernourished during pregnancy, her baby has a higher risk of dying in infancy and is more likely to face lifelong cognitive and physical deficits and chronic health problems.

Once the child is born, the first two years are critical to their chance at a healthy and productive life. Undernutrition weakens the immune system, and children not receiving nutritious foods are more susceptible to dying from common illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria.

According to The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a nutrient deficiency is not only dangerous to early childhood health, but also to the long-term success of a child. Lower levels of educational attainment, reduced productivity later in life and lower lifetime earnings are all consequences of a lack of early-nutrition.

In a recent release, USAID reports that “undernutition robs the developing world of critical human capital and capacity, and undermines other development investments in health, education and economic growth.”

According to the 1,000 Days movement, the answer to improving nutrition lies in three strategic, affordable, cost-effect solutions: “ensuring that mothers and young children get the necessary vitamins and minerals they need; promoting good nutrition practices, including breastfeeding and appropriate healthy foods for infants; and treating malnourished children with special, therapeutic foods.”

Evidence shows that providing the proper nutrition to a mother and her newborn has extensive benefits. These advantages include significantly reducing the burden of diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS, increasing a country’s GDP by at least 2-3 percent annually, and, most importantly, saving more than 1 million lives each year.

Since it was created in 2010, over 80 international relief and development organizations have partnered with the 1,000 Movement. Along with its efforts to encourage new actors to invest in maternal and child nutrition, 1,000 Days also encourages support for the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement. The two organizations work in tandem at a U.S.-based hub formed in June 2011 by InterAction, a coalition of U.S.-based international relief and development organizations and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) in collaboration with the U.S Department of State.

1,000 Days founder, Hillary Clinton, appropriately asserted, “Improving nutrition for mothers and children is one of the most cost-effective and impactful tools we have for poverty alleviation and sustainable development.”

— Grace Flaherty

Sources: Daily Times NG, 1,000 Days
Photo: Care

Early childhood development is extremely important, but it is hard for children to get this sort of development when they are living in poverty.

UNICEF is making an effort to make sure that kids living in poverty reach their full potential. UNICEF works with governments, civil society, communities and other partners to make educational programs to help children develop to their full capacity.

The early years of childhood are some of the most important years of a person’s life. These years are when physical development, cognitive development and social development are the most crucial. It is important to break the poverty cycle at a young age.

Many children around the world are not going to school, learning to their full potential and performing poorly in school because of poverty, poor learning environments, malnutrition and poor health.

UNICEF is making sure to educate families on nutrition and how to interact with each other. UNICEF is also making sure children are being prepared by the time they reach the age to attend school. It is also developing strong children care programs within families and communities. Other programs are developing systems so that all children are included in activities and never excluded.

It is important that children begin to be their own individuals, make their own choices and feel empowered at a young age. UNICEF is working with its partners to make sure that families and communities feel empowered to make sure that every child gets the best start in life. It is important that every child gets nurturing and loving care from their parents and caregivers. The way parents are shown to nurture their children is through parental guidance, properly feeding their families, showing positive emotions and avoiding harsh and physical violence toward their children.

It has been proven that young children grow and learn the most when they receive affection, attention and stimulation in addition to good nutrition and proper health care.

— Priscilla Rodarte

Photo: Institute for Child Success

In the 1950s, there were approximately 700 million people living in hunger, while the number of obese people was around 100 million, and a majority of the cases were found in countries with strong economies. Today, however, that is no longer the case.

In 2010, the number of hungry people in the world had slowly risen to 800 million while the number of obese citizens in the world sharply rose to 1.4 billion.

According to a documentary, “Globeisty: Fat’s New Frontier,” there has been not one country with a low or moderate income that has managed to reduce its number of hungry citizens without rapidly jumping to obesity.

However, obesity is not just limited to developed nations. Currently, there are more obese people in developing countries than there are people suffering from hunger in the same countries.

It is predicted that in India, around 100 million people will have diabetes some time in the foreseeable future. Currently, in the U.S. alone, eight obesity-related diseases are the cause for over 75% of healthcare costs. The diseases include, but are not limited to: Type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (or NAFLD), Polycystic ovarian syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

One of the leading causes of this rise in obesity is linked to the increase in the consumption of soft drinks. There has been a direct correlation between the rise in obesity rates in developing countries and the sales of soft drinks. In Mexico, the largest consumer of carbonated soft drinks in the world, 71% of women and 65% of men are overweight.

In 1989, Mexico had a miniscule portion of its adult population overweight and had no overweight children. Over the span of 15 to 16 years, the citizens of Mexico have reached a level of diabetes equal to the level the U.S. had 10 to 20 years ago.

However, another leading cause of obesity is consumption of foods filled with carbohydrates. In the 1950s, most of the food globally consumed was locally grown and fresh. Now, the majority of food consumed in developed and developing nations is highly processed and filled with carbohydrates. When a person eats a carbohydrate-heavy meal and fails to move a sufficient enough amount to turn the carbohydrates into energy, they are turned into sugar and fat.

In “The World is Fat,” an article written in 2007, Barry Popkin stated that the “exponential change in a vast array of courses” have led to people moving less and eating more, resulting in an “unprecedented” rise in obesity.

One final cause of obesity can be linked to accessibility of certain types of food, drink and cooking material.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the citizens of China were readily able to access hydrogenated solid oils like Crisco and liquid oils. Now, a Chinese citizen consumes around 300 to 400 of their daily calories from vegetable oil. There has also been an increase in the consumption of dairy products, fish, poultry, beef and pork. In 1974, the price of 100 kilograms of beef was somewhere around $500 in developing nations. Today, the price has dropped to around one-fifth of that number.

There is a movement, though, to try to halt the rise of obesity. In Mexico, special fitness programs are available to try to encourage people to move more. These programs are offered for free to allow anyone who needs it the chance to prevent obesity. The Mexican Minister of Health also has proposed taxing items and taking more aggressive stands toward working to combat obesity.

– Monica Newell

Sources: Scientific American, Epoch Times, The Independent
Photo: SF Gate