Learn
to
fish

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,“ Demewez Moges Haile says while looking at the small garden patch in front of him. The project coordinator is not here to fish but the well-known saying summarises his mission to Dera district (woreda) in Amhara region. He takes a closer look at the seedlings that will soon turn into a home garden of green leafy vegetables and fruits providing additional food to the farmer’s household. Amhara region is considered the breadbasket of Ethiopia, due to its excess production of mainly cereal-based crops. Yet, its inhabitants (especially its children) live with ‘hidden hunger’. “The national average of stunting is 44% but in this region it’s 52%,” he says.

As a food scientist and native to the region, Demewez takes a particular interest in solving this paradox. He stands up and looks at the wide fields of wheat and teff around him. “The definition of food security is understood wrongly. People think when you produce a lot, you are food secure,” he explains. Demewez realised that a change in strategy was needed to combat malnutrition. He represents the linkage between UNICEF’s long-time efforts of supporting community-based nutrition and CASCAPE, a project that works directly with the farmers to increase their productivity. “Now, we solved the availability of food but we still have malnutrition, so we have to work on the utilisation and accessibility part,” he says.

Attitude 

Demewez turns to the farmer’s wife and shows her the correct watering technique. Introducing home gardens is one aspect to diversify agricultural production; others include the production of protein source crops (like beans), as well as rearing chicken and small livestock. Out of the 800 selected households, women are the main target group. “One of the universally accepted facts is that a resource controlled by a woman can contribute better to nutrition,” he says. However, moral and religious reasons may prevent a healthy diet. “If a woman cooks a meal in the absence of her husband, it is considered unethically,” he explains. Amhara is known for its deep religious beliefs. Some families fast for more than 200 days, which denies pregnant women and their children the intake of vital vitamins and protein.

Changing the attitude of mothers is one of the challenges. Another one is bringing all parties together. “So far we are trying to solve the problems separately, everybody is focussing on their own sectors. But there is hope,” he says with a smile. The project has been rolled out to eight sub-districts (kebeles) in two woredas. Demewez expects the first results in 5-6 months. By then, the home garden will hopefully flourish and make food supplement imports from abroad unnecessary. He is positive that the project will work and attitudes change: “We need aid in terms of knowledge, experience and capacity building in order to become sustainable so we don’t receive fish but rather know how to fish.”