By Bertha Munthali
Boloso Sore District, Gidohoma Kebele, Southern Ethiopia
One of the observations made during preliminary surveys conducted before the launch of the ATONU pilot project was the absence of dietary diversity in rural Ethiopia and Tanzania. With this is mind, one of the focus areas of the ATONU intervention was social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) aimed at influencing income expenditure from sale of chickens and eggs to purchase other nutritious foods to improve household diets. This meant the need to train community members on budgeting and dietary diversity.
In August, five months into project implementation, I accompanied Zemen Zekeriyas, the ATONU Field Assistant to Bosolo Sore District to visit Gigo Homba village that was participating in the ATONU project. All along the 30 kilometre drive, the streets were filled with farmers carrying all sorts of food stuffs to the market. At that time of the year, the place was all green with the smell of freshness filling the air. The donkeys trudged slowly down the muddy and slippery road burdened with green bananas, mangoes, potatoes, and various food items with their owners behind them. The variety of food items would give one the impression that the people of this area enjoyed a diversified diet contrary to the baseline results for Ethiopia. I wondered why with so much food, the average dietary diversity score was 2-3 and noted it down as a point of follow up with the community. I needed to understand how they made choices and decisions on the food they consumed. I also noted that this place had all the food stuffs required for a healthy plate.
On the day in question Zemen had planned a session on financial planning and budgeting. This was a critical component of the ATONU intervention because dietary diversity is a function of communities’ understanding of financial planning and household budgeting.
The attendance was good, 18 men and 36 women, 5 of which are the group leaders. Half of participants have come as couples, a feature that the project is encouraging to ensure higher male participation. It has not been possible to have both husband and wife in one session; they swap attendance, with one attending the project events, whilst the other attends to household chores. Zemen’s delivery for today was very basic but effective. He started with a recap of the previous session which, I gather, had been on dietary diversity, and focusing on the 6 food groups of Ethiopia. He asked the participants to mention the foods within the 6 food groups in their area; what they had eaten the previous day, and for breakfast. Zemen also sought to establish the participants’ challenges in diversifying their diet during the previous week.
From the responses, staples and legumes topped the list of foods consumed; vegetables, eggs and milk come second; chicken was not mentioned. Upon further probing, we learned that chicken remains a food item reserved largely for festivals. The community had a variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes, tubers and roots. They had livestock. I quickly established that the farmers in attendance had adequate knowledge of the diverse foods but had consumed mainly staples and legumes the previous night and that morning, with a little from other sources not consumed on a daily basis. There were 2 pregnant women in the group and 2 breastfeeding mothers. I planned is to have an in-depth chat with them at the end of the session, to get a clearer picture of their diet during and after pregnancy.
After the food, Zemen enquired about the farmers’ sources of income. Farming topped the list. He also asked questions to establish the prevailing household decision making processes, especially on who decided on what to buy, or how to use the household income; how they arrived at the financial decisions they made. Having introduced categories for basic priorities, to include Loan, Food, Farm inputs, Clothing/festivals and Savings, the Field Assistant used a simple locally-made teaching and learning tool that allowed farmers to establish priority lists. Zemen relied on gender based break away sessions with groups consisting of up to 6 farmers to debate and discuss their priority lists in view of their projected income, and providing justification for their decisions. The same sex group work was meant to understand the differences in how men and women prioritised the use of their income and how that affected household nutrition.
It was interesting to note that different people had different priorities for income use at household level. From the feedback sessions after the debates, Food emerged as the top priority; followed by paying back the loan; inputs, clothes and savings, in that order. There were some differences of opinion on the priority list, with farmers expressing their views. Some farmers insist that Loan should be top because “a person who owes others has no respect and dignity in the community”. Others believed Food is the top priority, highlighting that families cannot be productive with it. There was a lot of debate which the Field Assistant allowed, with farmers trying to win their colleagues over on what to their priority lists. In closing, the Field Assistant emphasised the need for making a proper plan of finances, making sure that households were able to purchase nutritious food to supplement that which they grew at home.
The session ended with the Field Assistant giving assignments to the farmers to try to make simple budgets for different food items. For example, farmers were tasked to allocate funds against food items from the 6 food groups that they did not grow but needed to buy from the market.