The first of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. According to the World Bank report World Development Indicators 2003, one sixth of the world’s population suffers hunger due to extreme poverty. Part of the hunger problem that is increasingly receiving attention is nutrition insecurity, or malnutrition, which affects one billion people around the world and is responsible for almost 10 million deaths a year. With the increase in food prices, this number is likely to increase.
Agriculture must play a role in addressing nutrition security. Promoting and improving agricultural productivity and farming practices can bring positive impact on malnutrition levels. While technological and scientific innovation are key tools for producing a sufficient supply of healthy and nutritious food to satisfy the world market, another issue must be addressed as a priority: the problem of information flow. Education and knowledge share are vital to fighting malnutrition. Some independent initiatives have been taking place in Africa, as reported by Agfax, a radio and press service that reports on recent developments in farming and rural livelihoods, that are successful examples of getting information out to those who need it most.
Share Fair is an organisation that helps to spread and improve agricultural knowledge amongst African farmers through workshops and presentations at events; literally “Share Fairs”. In an interview with Agfax, Jacqueline Nnam, a knowledge-sharing officer in Ghana, pointed out that the biggest challenge facing African farmers is the “packaging of information”, meaning that the phrasing of the language employed and the jargon used – especially related to scientific research – are a barrier to effective communication. “Another thing is providing exactly the type of information the farmers want” says Nnam referring to the amount of information given to farmers that can be irrelevant for their businesses and may only create confusion.
Another example is the Healthy Learning Programme, run in the arid and semi-arid districts of Kenya. In order to ensure that information on nutrition and farming is passed on to the younger generation, the country is investing in health teaching for primary school children. The programme aims to teach kids basic knowledge ranging from hygiene to production of crops for food and for generating income. Children are also encouraged to implement their newly found knowledge at home. In an interview with Agfax, Veronica Mugure, a Class Seven student in Narumoru Primary School, said that the programme had changed their lives for better. In addition to learning how to grow and harvest their own crops, the students were taught to cook the food and were also fed at the school. Another student from the school, Veronica Wamboi from Class Six, said that the project had helped them on many levels. They benefited from the sale of the crops they harvested and were also taught business skills.
Understanding how to effectively communicate and share relevant information with farmers can have a direct impact on the production of food and improvement of nutrition as can basic education for tackling the underlining causes of malnutrition and hunger itself. Initiatives like the Healthy Learning programme and the approach taken by Share Fair are great examples of small schemes that can go a long way in combating hunger and malnutrition and addressing basic health education.