Addressing Causes for Poverty and Ensuring Food Security for Farming Communities “Caritas Response to combat Malnutrition in Program Villages "

Specifically, SDG (Sustainable Development Goals of UN)  the goal 2 “zero hunger” aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, to ensure that all people – especially children – have access to sufficient and nutritious food year-round. This includes achieving the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons by 2030. However, given the current status of malnutrition, Sri Lanka encounters a challenge in order to achieve the SDG target on eradicating malnutrition by 2030.

in Sri Lanka, it is required to have a better understanding of the causes of malnutrition in severely affected populations, such as those socioeconomically poor. Such analysis enables identification of policy gaps and where resources should be directed to redress the root causes of malnutrition among different socioeconomic groups.

Malnutrition is closely, and directly or indirectly, linked to major causes of death and disability. About one third of child mortality (in children below five) is attributable to undernutrition (UNICEF, 2013). Malnourished children face frequent attacks of severe diarrhoea and are more susceptible to  several infectious diseases, such as malaria, meningitis, and pneumonia. Further, it is clear that undernutrition early in life has major consequences for future educational, income and productivity outcomes. For instance, recent research has recognised the harmful impact of undernutrition on brain and nervous system development (UNIICEP, 2013) . Thus, early childhood development has long-term consequences in terms of educational achievements and health status, future adult productivity and earning potential. The degree of cognitive impairments is directly related to the severity of stunting and iron deficiency anaemia. For instance, studies have shown that stunted children in the first two years of life have lower cognitive test scores, delayed enrolment, higher absenteeism and more class repetition compared with non-stunted children (World Bank, 2006). Another fact is that malnutrition raises the risk of poor physical health in the long run, and leads to more chronic illness and disability in adulthood.

Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in the intake of energy or other nutrients. Contrary to the common usage, the term malnutrition covers two broad groups of conditions. One is ‘undernutrition’—which includes stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height),
underweight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (lack of important vitamins and minerals). The other is over-nutrition, where intake of food is in excess of
dietary energy requirements, resulting in overweight or obesity (WHO, 2016). below (moderate or severe stunting) and more than three standard deviations below (severe stunting) from the median of the WHO Child Growth Standards. Wasting Children aged 0 to 59 months whose weight for height is more than two standard deviations below (moderate or severe wasting) and more than three
standard deviations below (severe wasting).

A number of nutrition programmes were implemented in many villages in the Districts of Galle, Matara and Hambantota in the Southern Province   under the above Project with the contribution of Community Medical Officers (Ayurvedic Physicians)   attached to the  Department of Aurveda. The main objective of the Ayurvedic Department of the Southern Province is to generate both physically and mentally strong  people through the treatments of indigenous medical system which inherited for a proud history of more than Two Thousand Five Hundred years. 

A number of  nutritional awareness programmes  were conducted by these Community Medical Officers attached to the Provincial Department of Ayuveda  in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka targeting  mostly pre-school children of pre-schools, their mothers and families in villages where we conduct food security related activities with the objective of  improving their nutrition levels. These  nutrition related prorgammes were conducted  in collaboration with Caritas SED Galle.

The main goal of this programme is to  provide  awareness to them on the importance of nutrition and introduce to them  the use of  local nutritious food without poison from pre-school stage to future generation.  Awareness  was provided to them on numerous occasions by  Community Medical Officers on nutrition value of local foods, the disadvantages by using artificial poisonous foods (instant)  which contain various coloring and additives which are harmful to humans  by lectures and video presentations. Demonstrations were also  conducted by Ayurvedic Physicians on how to prepare nutritious  foods by using local raw materials, they showed practically on how to prepare varieties of  porridge ( using local nutritious leaves, ranawara flowers, beli flowers, local rice, kitul flour, kurakkan etc)    omelets, rotti,  pizzas  using kurakkan and other local raw items,  on how to prepare nutritious meals out of local rice, sausages using young jack fruits,  fruit drinks using local fruits etc  in order to motivate the mothers and people in the villages so that they will use local food varieties  in place of instant junk foods.  The local foods so prepared  were distributed among  the participants to taste. The participants of these nutrition programmes were also made aware traditional food habits, use of locally made condiments and their nutritious value, use of traditional ayuvedic medicine, causes for getting sicknesses, how to prepare foods in traditional ways by  preserving their nutritious values and the benefits by avoiding instant foods etc.

The parents as well as teachers  gave their appreciative feedback expressing  their views relating to changes in their  children after they switched to new food practices (Weight gain in the children, Improvement of their energy & activities, Children’s development in all respects, reduction in chances of  getting sick, developing of their memory power and developing pleasantness.  Accordingly we have witnessed  vast improvement in the their children as explained  by parents and teachers as above.  It was reflected in their tests  and activities.

A number of capacity building trainings are being conducted from the year 2018 to date  targeting  school children and farmers  in selected  villages by the Agricultural Instructors and Agricultural Research & Production Assistants attached to the Department of Agriculture on nutrition related subjects, on how to start and improve home gardening, manufacture of  organic compost, liquid fertilizer& pest repellants,  preparation of plant/seed nurseries &  soil,