Empowering communities to use agrobiodiversity for nutritious diets

Empowering communities to use agrobiodiversity for nutritious diets

In a new GIZ-funded project in Kenya and Ethiopia, communities will develop their own action plans to improve nutrition and diet diversity with support from Bioversity International and partners.

Hunger and malnutrition can create a variety of health problems. The long-term consequences of these conditions can be detrimental to the health and livelihoods of individuals and their communities.

In Kenya, 19% of the population is undernourished, with 26% of children under five years suffering from chronic malnutrition. In Ethiopia, these estimates are 29% and 38% respectively.1 Malnourished children are at risk of losing more than 10% of their lifetime economic potential.2 As a result, developing countries are losing up to 3% of their annual GDP.

Local agrobiodiversity – including ‘forgotten’ traditional foods and wild foods – is crucial to diversify the diets of vulnerable communities and provide a rich source of naturally available nutrients all year round.

Launching a new research project

With this in mind, Bioversity International is launching a 3-year research project called ‘Improving Dietary Quality and Livelihoods using Farm and Wild Biodiversity through an Integrated Community-Based Approach in Ethiopia and Kenya.’ This project aims to empower communities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and Turkana County in Kenya to better use agrobiodiversity to increase farm resilience, enhance incomes, and improve dietary diversity. Through a series of six workshops, Bioversity International will work with community members, and support them in creating their own community action plans. This process is designed to create local authorship and ownership to increase uptake and sustainability. The ultimate goal of the community action plans is to improve dietary diversity and nutrition in their communities.

This project builds on two of Bioversity International’s recent initiatives in Kenya. In Vihiga County, Bioversity International developed an integrated, community-based approach for farm and diet diversification. Through this project, farmers developed and implemented community action plans to improve dietary diversity. Examples of project initiatives include planting traditional leafy vegetables, training on farming techniques, and creating a community seedbank. Since then, this intervention has expanded to other communities in the county. The second initiative explored the agrobiodiversity and nutrition context of Turkana County. Encouraged by our findings in Vihiga, and equipped with a better understanding of Turkana County, Bioversity International is now undertaking this new initiative.  

In Ethiopia, Bioversity International is partnering with Concern Worldwide, GIZ-Ethiopia, and the Tigray Regional State Government and in Kenya with Save the Children, GIZ- Kenya, and the County Government of Turkana. We will also consult with various research institutions, including the University of Nairobi (Kenya), Mekelle University (Ethiopia), Center for Development Research (ZEF) - University of Bonn, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen and University of Hohenheim. This project would not be possible without the support and funding of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development through Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit.

Representatives from each of these partner institutions met in October in Lodwar, Kenya for a 3-day kick-off workshop. The goal of this event was to 1) get to know each other and our respective work, 2) align our visions for the programme, 3) learn more about our local stakeholders and their regional context, and 4) fine-tune the project details.  

A small subset of stakeholders stayed in Turkana County for two additional days to conduct site visits. During their trip, they met with community health volunteers to learn more about the communities and their health-related goals. Led by locals, this team toured villages, visited irrigation projects, tasted indigenous foods, and discussed the logistics of community health centres.  

Next steps

The Bioversity team is currently gathering more information on relevant policies, narrowing down the sample population, and developing a baseline survey. Next, they will pick a randomized selection of community health units for their intervention and control groups. Selected individuals within each of the intervention units will participate in six community-led workshops on agrobiodiversity and nutrition. Through these workshops, community members will develop their own community action plans, which may include the use of seasonally available wild foods, a community seed bank, and changes to farming practices. Each of these action plans will be developed by community members with the goal of improving dietary diversity and nutrition within their communities.

1. UNICEF, 2017 and FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, 2017

2. Global Panel, 2016

This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and is supported by CGIAR Trust Fund Donors.