SUMMARY: Gardens for Health International, an NGO pioneering the integration of nutrition-based agriculture into the clinical care of malnutrition, partners with rural Rwandan health clinics to implement healthcare strategies that include nutritional education and the nurturing of home gardens of nutrient rich foods for each family. They are seeking to expand this program throughout Rwanda and into Uganda, Burundi, and beyond. This elegant model could be replicated globally to address malnutrition.
PROBLEM SPACE: "A 2013 Save the Children report estimates 165 million children currently suffer from malnutrition. Malnutrition contributes to nearly 1 in 3 early childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, and while the loss of life is overwhelming, the loss of human capital is equally sobering. Children who lack adequate nutrition are less likely to attend school, and when they do, they are less likely to succeed. On average, these children earn less and die at a younger age than their peers.
In Rwanda, where we currently provide direct service, malnutrition is a pervasive challenge that undermines the nation's health and economic growth. Despite the fact that 85% of Rwanda's population engages in agriculture, a staggering 44% of under-five children are chronically malnourished (DHS 2010). A recent study investigating the cost of hunger estimates that undernutrition cost Rwanda 11.5% of its GDP in 2012 (Cost of Hunger in Rwanda, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 2013).
Globally, malnutrition is one of the critical challenges of our day, and too often our systems are equipped to provide only short-term interventions. We are transforming the way malnutrition is treated by introducing solutions that go beyond clinic walls and by using agriculture to drive better health."
SOLUTION: "We currently work with government-run health centers in Rwanda to integrate targeted agricultural support and comprehensive health and nutrition education into the pre-existing treatment of malnutrition in rural regions with a high prevalence of chronic malnutrition.
Clinical staff at our partner health centers refer patients diagnosed with malnutrition to our program. We work with each patient's caregiver, most often the mother, to design and plant a home garden that promotes both crop bio-diversity and dietary diversity. At the same time, we provide families with peer-developed and peer-delivered health trainings designed to address the complex and inter-related factors that can make it harder for families to feed their children, such as mental health, savings, and family planning.
In addition to this direct service work, we work at the policy level to advocate for policies and programs that integrate food security and agriculture into the clinical treatment of malnutrition.
Finally, recognizing the broad relevance of our approach, we have begun the process of sharing both our training methodology and our home garden model with interested clinical partners throughout the region. Currently, we are working with partners in Uganda and Burundi to adapt our model and methodology for their communities."