Zimbabwe: Empower Schoolchildren to Improve Nutrition

26 February 2020

In the recent past, the health and nutrition of adolescents are becoming global priorities. There are over 1,2 billion adolescents aged 10 to 19 in the world and nearly a quarter of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa are within that age group.

Different stages of the life cycle command differing nutrient needs. Due to the spurting of growth that occurs in adolescence, several nutrients are at greater deficiency risk, including calcium and iron.

To develop to their optimal potential, it is vital that adolescents choose nutritionally sound diets. This may spell the difference between health and risk of disease in later years.

Adolescents themselves have the best understanding of young people's needs, how to address them and how to get them involved.

Because of this, youth voices can be an incredibly powerful force for bringing about the changes they want to see.

This calls for participatory and collaborative processes from everyone to engage adolescents and promote their voices.

Achieving the United Nations (UN) Global Goals, precisely goal two, which advocates zero hunger and goal three, which calls for good health and well-being, require collective action.

Just like the UN says, Zimbabwe should leave no one behind in the fight to end malnutrition.

Towards this end, the Rural Enterprise Trust of Zimbabwe has embarked on a massive drive to recruit nutrition champions in schools in Mashona-land Central.

RETZ is a private non-political, non-profit organisation created in 2014 to respond to the needs of Zimbabweans.

It seeks to sustain, strengthen and promote socio-economic freedoms as the yardstick for pursuing sustainable development.

The programme started last year to create Nutrition Information Systems (NIS) that provide opportunities for children, youths and grassroots communities to participate in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets, particularly SDG 2 which seeks to end hunger and malnutri-tion.

Funds permitting, the programme will be rolled out to other rural communities countrywide.

This is a noble cause and the Government should join in scaling up nutrition in the country.

Child malnutrition remains a major crisis in Zimbabwe, with little attention being given towards allocating more financial resources to fight under-nourishment.

Despite being the major victims of malnutrition, adolescents and grassroots communities do not have platforms to raise their voices on the need to increase nutrition financing and improve community-based nutrition service delivery.

There is little or no food and nutrition information to guide the design of relevant nutrition interventions, assessment of progress made by ongo-ing nutrition initiatives and ensure improved nutrition service management and coordination among local communities in the country.

RETZ programmes manager Cuthbert Mukora said they are broadening the participation of children through expanding a network of food and nu-trition citizen journalists from the previous 36 junior councillors and young people they trained in Bindura, to an excess of 40 who were trained in Mazowe District recently.

"Coupled with this, we have taken a step further to also train more than 60 teachers who are custodians of children and who will guide our child citi-zen journalists to write and tell stories on food and nutrition as well as health and wellness in their respective communities," he said.

"We have also capacitated members of the Food and Nutrition Security Committees at district levels in Mazowe and Bindura, on issues of citizen journalism, fact checking and digital security so that they are also able to verify information and data from our citizen journalists on real time before we publish the stories through our e-digital nutrition information platform.

"This is just but work in progress and if resources permit, we will go beyond Mashonaland Central to cover the whole of Zimbabwe."

While Mazowe is the largest producer of cereal crops in Zimbabwe, the Annual Nutrition Reports from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac) stated that Mazowe is worst affected in regard to malnutrition.

Hence, there is need for continuously engaging and capacitating children who are the most affected.

As a country, there is need to amplify the voices of adolescents and also prioritise the investing and allocations of resources towards nutrition.

Food and nutrition issues have a huge and lasting impact of on children.

Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) lecturer and media consultant, Jasper Maphosa told The Herald that historically, the focus has been on involv-ing the adult members and not the most affected groups.

He said the project being done by RETZ is crucial as it will equip young people with skills to tell their own stories and influence policy with regards to food and nutrition which is a constitutional right and a key component of the SDGs.

"Young people have no or limited roles in food and nutrition arrangements at the level of the household and their voices remain regrettably mut-ed," he said.

"We are amplifying their voices and we envisage a productive and healthy young generation if this is replicated to other provinces beyond Masho-naland Central.

"The citizen journalism and digital literacy trainings we are conducting with the young people will result in the shaping of nutrition discourses from the lens of the most vulnerable and affected group."

It is, thus, important for the country to continue addressing issues of nutrition security.

Nutrition for all should remain top on the agenda for the Government, while it assumes primary responsibility for resource mobilisation and fund-ing to complement efforts of development partners.

The consequences of nutritional deficiencies and disorders are significant, so are the benefits of investing in efforts to address them.

Globally, there is strong evidence that eliminating under-nutrition saves lives, prevents more than one-third of child deaths per year, and reduces the burden of disability for children under five by more than half.

Nutritionist, Sindiso Matsokotere who runs YAPWE Nutrition and Wellness Foundation said nutrition and wellness trainings being implemented by RETZ are a huge step in the right direction for the country.

"Nutrition and wellness issues affect everyone, and they are a contributing factor to the development of our communities, equipping the people with information and knowledge which they can adopt and pass on to the next generation in light of the SDGs for 2030.

No one should be left behind when it comes to good nutrition and wellness," she said.

Going forward, reading, writing and arithmetic should not be the only things the country's children should be learning at their respective schools.

Schools are crucial as the custodians of children to continue helping pupils in learning the importance of healthy eating through balanced meals and nutrition education.

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