Afikepo; Ending Wasting in Mzimba South
When 57-year-old Lufina Nyathi of Kayuni Nyathi village in the area of Inkosi Kampingo Sibande in Mzimba heard about the death of her daughter-in-Law in South Africa in 2017 she was utterly devastated.
Her daughter-in-law died just after giving birth to a baby girl due to complications during labor.
Three weeks later the baby girl who was named Loness was brought back home to be under the care of Nyathi.
"I was devastated, I didn't know how I would be able to cope with taking care of the baby, some of my friends were laughing at me saying the baby will not survive she will die," recalls Nyathi while sitting on a lead mat near her house.
Nyathi says caring for the baby was not easy. His father who brought her home returned to South Africa leaving her with a few tins of milk with which to feed the baby.
"Though I was trying my best to care for the baby I could see that she was not all that healthy, She was wasting away."
However, in 2018 things changed for Nyathi after the inception of the Afikepo project in her area which falls under the jurisdiction of Inkosi Kampingo Sibande in Eswazini Extension Planning Area.
The project followed a survey which revealed that 2.3% of children under five years were wasting in the district with stunting levels hovering around 37% and 10% of the children were underweight.
On the other hand, 16% of babies were being born with an average weight of below 2500 grams according to an Afikepo KAP nutrition survey.
Afikepo is a project that uses a multi-sectoral approach in addressing nutrition challenges especially among under five children in Malawi being championed jointly by government and other development partners.
Afikepo which means 'let the children grow to their full potential' is being implemented in 10 districts in the country using initiatives that are deemed fit in ending the scourge of wasting among under-five children by employing various approaches.
Among others, the project interventions focus on women empowerment in agriculture, infant and young child feeding (IYCF), breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding, and complementary feeding.
"At first I was reluctant to join in the project but however after seeing the benefits and how I can be helped in the care of my daughter-in-law's baby I joined and was appointed one of the promoters in our care group," says Nyathi.
She says through Afikepo she learned how to prepare six food groups for the baby and after two weeks she started noticing an improvement in her health status.
"Loness was no longer haunted by sickness, her body weight greatly improved thanks to the Afikepo project which also introduced as to backyard gardens now we have food at our disposal close to our own homes," said Nyathi.
She says after seeing the change in the health of her baby a lot of women in the area started patronizing the care groups and put into practice what they have learnt at their homes.
"To me, the project has been an eye-opener even in surrounding villages around Kayuni Nyathi village we don't see wasted or stunted children, we don't have children being sent to Nutrition rehabilitation units," says Nyathi in the company of the now three-year-old healthy Loness.
A male champion in the area Edwin Mphande says the Afikepo project has also managed to end deep-rooted cultural beliefs that were depriving children of taking nutritious food.
"We were not allowing children to eat eggs because culturally we believed that by eating eggs they would become epileptic but now all this has changed," says Mphande.
Mphande's task is to ensure that women in the area are attending cluster meetings in their care groups to ensure that their families especially under-five children are being fed on the 6 food groups.
In Malawi, wasting still remains a serious challenge and contributes to a major share of preventable child deaths.
The factors that contribute to wasting - a condition characterized by steady weight loss are many. They include poor diets and infectious diseases that weaken the immune system and increase chances of stunted growth.
Lack of food also remains a challenge due to frequent food and nutrition-related shocks, widespread poverty, and over-dependence on maize as a staple food, and high population density.
According to Data grinned from UNICEF 23% of child deaths in the country are attributed to undernutrition.
It's in this vein that women like 57-year-old Nyathi feels the introduction of backyard gardens through the Afikepo project is a step in the right direction in ensuring that children grow to their full potential.
"Now our children are no longer wasted and we are assured that they will have a bright future," says Nyathi.
Alice Ndhlovu of Alick Nyirenda village also attests to the benefits of the Afikepo project.
Ndhlovu says before the project, she was sick now and again every time she fell pregnant and would give birth to underweight babies.
"But now things have changed following what we learn through the Afikepo project, am no longer sick when pregnant and my last baby was born with 4 Kilograms compared to the others who were being born with a weight of not more than three kg."
She says through the project they have been taught what food should be given to pregnant and lactating mothers.
One of the initiatives of the Afikepo project is to promote breastfeeding among lactating mothers.
"And with back yard gardens we don't have problems in finding food for supplementing the diets of our children," said Ndhlovu.
Eva Mtonga also of Alick Nyirenda village fends for a family of 6. Mtonga says the Afikepo project has changed their lives for the better.
"We were finding a lot of challenges to diversify our diets. We didn't know that we can make our own gardens behind our homes and grow assorted crops."
"But now this is the history we grow vegetables and other crops right near our homes, food is no longer an issue we even sell to others," said Mtonga.
According to Mtonga incidents of pregnant women developing swollen feet due to poor feeding habits are now over.
"Back yard gardens have also reduced quarrels in families between husband and wife as we don't travel long distances to buy vegetables as we used to do in the past where our husbands would think we had extramarital affairs,"
Mtonga says through the project they have been given black mikolongwe chickens which gives them a lot of eggs they use to supplement their diet.
The project also supplies soya beans to women which they also sell if they have produced a surplus and use the proceeds for other needs.
"We thank the Afikepo project for changing our lives now we are food secure and wasting among our children is now a thing of the past", said Mtonga.
The Afikepo project which was launched in 2018 is in Mzimba is being funded by the European Union and it mainly aims at enhancing nutrition security in the country.
In Mzimba south the project is targeting under-five children, pregnant and lactating mothers, and adolescent girls.
According to Mavuto Mfuni a food and nutrition officer who is coordinating the project in Mzimba south - the project is working with 71,072 households in 6 TAs in Mzimba south where 52151 are male-headed families,18921 are female-headed families, and 363 child-headed families using the care group model.