It’s the United Nations Decade of family farming! Are you engaged?

Earnest shared these amazing photos of his kitchen garden and kroilers. I thought they were pretty cool for a status update. He, his wife Kedress and the kids were rearing kroiler chicken at home. The chickens were doing quite okay for first time farmers. Plus with the kids around because of COVID, it seemed one exciting family engagement of the year! They were learning so much together. Sure, he complained about the work it comes with but lucky for him, they were quite enough hands to care for the chicks.

Any waste, they poured onto the kitchen garden. Earnest and the kids tend to a vegetable garden of nakati, sukuma wiki and amaranthus. They intercropped some maize in it. What’s the year’s last harvest season without fresh corn to munch away? And straight from the garden to the roast pit, theirs is truly a season to tell!

Kedress occasionally plants some matooke suckers in the backyard. Afterall, a Mukiga and a plate of steaming matooke are inseparable. Hers, is a garden well-tended to for a ‘town- wife.’ She grew beans and ground nuts this past season. She occasionally travels to the Rukungiri to tend to some eucalyptus she and Earnest grew.

‘Family farming (including all family-based agricultural activities) is the means of organising agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour, including both women’s and men’s. The family and the farm are linked, co-evolve and combine economic, environmental, social and cultural functions.’

FAO

Uganda relies predominantly on agriculture. Earnest’s experience is not entirely uncommon. Even in the townships, you find some sort of farming going on. Uganda’s largest population is mostly rural, so a focus on small scale farmers is simply necessary. The United Nations Decade of Family Farming focuses on small scale farmers.  

Family farms avail and provide access to nutritious food aside from generating incomes. Small scale farmers are knowledgeable in the indigenous craft when caring for and tilling land. The UN recognises this and advocates for small scale farmers through a Global Action Plan to achieve the sustainable development goals. 

Hunger and poverty, were the challenges the decade of family farming sought to solve. In 2017 the United Nations General Assembly declared 2019-2028 as the UN Decade of Family Farming (UNDFF). Countries may draw upon the UNDFF to promote investments that support family farming. Investing in small scale farmers at its core promotes the sustainable development agenda. 

Gardening is fun for the kids and this year we’ve spent a lot of time together. Besides having a fresh supply of vegetables all round, we are able to earn an income from the chicken project.

Earnest says

Living in a low income country with a youthful population over scores your need to get involved and understand how as a small scale farmer you fit in. After all, our major livelihood revolves around farming in Uganda.

Should Ugandans have a national dietary guide?

You just bought your daily newspaper, are you confident the nutrition advice you read is accurate? Do you watch television excerpts of ‘herbalists’ offering nutrition supplements and second guess their effectiveness? Are you that parent that ever wonders if those school meals are right for your child’s growth? Or do you think the food industry ought to fit within certain recommendations for your own health? Well, it is justified, you are only concerned about your health. Shouldn’t these service providers be too! How then should they ensure that the services offered promote healthy eating among the general public they serve?

The World Health Organisation provides guidelines that cater for specific categories within populations to promote healthy eating and lifestyles that prevent any form of malnutrition and chronic diseases. However, every country adapts guidelines that are used to help the general public make informed, healthy lifestyle and food choices that prevent malnutrition and chronic diseases.

So as expected, Uganda should have guidelines that are used by policymakers and health professionals including nutritionists to inform health and nutrition programs or even policies that help the general public adopt healthy eating patterns and live healthy lifestyles. Whereas these guidelines are meant for prevention of disease and not treatment of disease, health professionals may adapt these guidelines to encourage healthy eating patterns among their patients. These guidelines could ensure consistence with any publications of dietary guidance including the media.  

We do not have national dietary guidelines! Why? You ask. After all, non-communicable diseases are increasingly on the rise. A national survey conducted by the Ministry of Health in 2014 showed that 1 in 10 adults had more than three risk factors for non- communicable diseases. I couldn’t be more disappointed to inform you that, I do not know why either.

These risk factors are; a diet with less than five servings of fruit and/or vegetables a day, less or an equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, a raised blood pressure, being overweight or obese and smoking. Yes people, smoking!

Now, sidebar, in East Africa, only Kenya has national dietary guidelines. These guidelines contribute to efforts of progress on the global nutrition targets (which include addressing diabetes among the adult populations, a non-communicable disease). Failure to have enacted dietary guidelines may revolve around reluctance to commit to nutrition as country. Whereas Uganda committed to the realisation of the right to adequate food, the country has not yet enacted into law any policy on nutrition. Not that we aren’t on our way there, it is a complicated issue to be discussed on another day, plus maybe it just is not a priority. End of side bar!

Nevertheless, a recently published Presidential Initiative on Healthy Eating and Healthy Lifestyle was released that provides the basics to a call for action of key messaging that would otherwise be included in a national dietary guide. It is important to note, this initiative was published to promote healthy eating and lifestyle practices in households and communities as one of its three key objectives. Although it cannot substitute the role of the national dietary guidelines, in the land of the blind, the one eyed man surely is king.

Lots of research will prove how having the dietary guidelines in place positively impact on the general health of populations. Maybe sometime soon, hopefully, you may comfortably sip from your favourite energy drink fully confident that the manufacturer put your health before business and conformed to consistence with the Uganda national dietary guidelines.

Kitchen gardening as an option in the COVID-19 lock down

Let’s put a little nutrition in the stay home period as we wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here’s why you should grow a kitchen garden during the stay home period;

  • You have the time
  • You will soon run out on fresh vegetables
  • Gardening is a fun and fulfilling activity to spend time

However, for most of us; gardening sure seems too tedious and quite the blur especially for those that have never done it.  So, ‘how do I get started?’ Well lucky for you, here’s a step by step flow on cultivating your own kitchen garden.

Step 1

You may need to choose leafy vegetables and herbs that take relatively a shorter period to harvest and can be harvested several times; examples include; cow peas, spinach, amaranthus, sukuma wiki

Sukuma wiki ready for harvest
Photo by Fred Nuwagaba

Step 2

Clearing the ground if you have a backyard garden. If not, you may need to fill up some pots or sacks with soil positioning them in the sun light.

Step 3

Work the soil and soften its texture. Mix up the top layers with the bottom. If possible, add black loamy soil to your pot.

Step 4

Plant your seeds in the now prepared soil.

Step 5

Water the plants daily; early in the day or late in the evening and wait.

In relatively five to eight days all vegetables should have germinated. Cow peas should have grown tender leaves ready for harvesting in three weeks. Sukuma wiki should take a month to harvest. Spinach and amaranthus will take four to five weeks.

A kitchen garden with Sukuma wiki
Photo by Apio Benardate

There are some tips you may consider to improve the quality of your vegetables. Weeding is important as you go along. Mulching especially for vegetables planted directly in the back yard is suitable for water conservation. You may consider controlling pests organically or by spraying.

Leafy vegetables such as those chosen above may be harvested several times lasting up to three months.

Amaranthus after three weeks
Photo by Nicholas Opiri

So enjoy your vegetables with several recipes.

‘Kitoobero’ – A Six months old Infant’s Recipe

Kitobeero

(Featured Image by Prossy Nabachenje, Acire Peter and Wangwe Samuel)

I recently had field work activities that involved demonstration classes in food preparation for mothers whose children were starting to eat food other than breast milk. Yes, its complementary feeding. (You can google it!)

Any way, complementary feeding comes with a lot of issues. Just ask moms! In light of solving one issue- ‘how do you give toothless infants food that isn’t Irish potatoes?’

Well, if you are one unfortunate mom whose made it to a nutrition unit you probably know the recipe- (the working mom, apparently their infants are contributing to the cases of severe acute malnutrition. Its not news anymore!).

So I was requested by a number to share the magic recipe. I also learnt this recipe from Mwana mugimu Nutrition Unit in Mulago. Hmm, our own- very Ugandan magic recipe to keep Infants well nourished. Hope you try it out. And if you can call a nutritionist to do a practical session one-on-one.

‘Kitoobero’
(2 proteins- 1 carbohydrate)

Ingredients
2 proteins (1 Legume + 1 animal protein)
1 carbohydrate
Iodized table salt
Water

Special Equipment – Tiffini (aka box* in local language)

Cooking Time – 1 hour and 30 minutes

Method (e.g Beans+ Silver fish and Cassava)
1. Place 2 palms of uncased beans in the tiffini
2. Add 1 teaspoon of silver fish
3. To the tiffini, add 1 palm of cassava cubes
4. Add a pinch of salt
5. Add water to cover (excess is better since it can be poured off after cooking)
6. Cover the tiffini tightly to seal
7. Cook by steaming method

Serving
1. Pour off excess water and safely store
2. Mash to a fine mixture (Use the excess water if necessary)
3. Serve half for one meal
4. Safely store the balance for the next meal

Previous Preparation
1. Pound the dry silver fish to a powder
2. Soak the beans in water overnight to soften bean casings
3. Remove the bean casings to expose the seeds
4. Peel cassava tubers and slice them into cubes

If beef, goat’s meat, fish, mutton, lamb, liver etc. measure a fist – Scrape all meats with a knife after measuring a fist
Slice all tubers before measuring a palm
Soak all dry legumes overnight to remove seed casing
You may use raw eggs beaten or milk as a liquid in place of an animal protein
Pound ground nuts into a powder and measure in palms
Possible recipes include (Cowpeas+ chicken and yams, ground nuts+ liver and matooke, green peas+ egg and millet, etc.)

And there you have it, do not feed your infants soup while you lavish on beef for the unfair excuse that they are toothless! Now you know, do the right way for your precious little one.

You think you have ‘grown fat’

I peek into the mirror, look up to my torso and ‘behind’. I hold my waist, throw in a sway and turn sideways before I fake a smile or frown. I may nod in agreement or disagreement presumed on an unclear difference of the previous and present woman in the mirror. Well, we all fret the weight issue. For most of us, the weight gain.

How much should you not exceed? How do you even tell if you have increased weight or not? Please excuse the most obvious or sometimes even ridiculous ways we all do it. Have you ever stopped at the clinic to do it with a nutritionist present to explain your result? If not, you probably should. In any case, this is what you should know.

Measurements of weight and height when taken are aligned together to determine your Body Mass index (BMI) – a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height. This index simple tells us if your weight is healthy for you. Everyone is categorized underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. BMI can be calculated from the two measurements. This takes time. If a BMI wheel is used instead, it saves time, is simple to use and direct. In fact, it can easily tell the borders you should not exceed.

BMI however, will not apply to a pregnant mother, a mother breastfeeding for less than 6 months, an amputated person, or a child. Children should use BMI for age, the same wheel with age range. An estimated BMI for amputees may be calculated. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers will use a Mid Upper Arm circumference.

There are rules to follow when taking your weight;

Take your measurement early in the morning before breakfast.

You may want to wear lighter clothing that day.

Use the same weight scale in case you are monitoring your weight.

This is an ideal scenario. Haidar goes to the clinic on a lovely Saturday morning and requests for a ‘weight’ measurement. The nutritionist requests him to empty his pockets, remove his copper watch and shoes. He steps onto the weight scale and a reading is taken (62kilograms). He then steps onto the height board a second reading is taken (1.6metres). Now these readings are aligned on the BMI wheel and a final reading (24kilgrams/metres2) is given to Haidar. The nutritionist explains the reading to Haidar. He is of normal weight. He however should not exceed a weight of 65kilograms otherwise, he would be overweight. If he lost weight, it is not healthy to exceed below 47kilograms because he would be underweight.

Remember, consulting with a nutritionist if you are outside your normal weight is wise. Being above or below your normal weight is unhealthy. An underweight person is at risk of falling ill easily and often, reduced fertility for both men and women, failing to grow and develop normally for children.

An overweight or obese person is at risk of diseases such as; high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

So find out if you have grown fat, it’s that simple!

Uganda’s Newest Baby on Block!

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Photo by Benardate A Okiria

So am excited, of course, along with many others about the recently launched National Integrated Early Childhood Development policy (NIECD). Naturally, because I argue the impeccable and irrefutable contribution of nutrition to the growth and development of children in their early years. This integration includes health, education, protection, water and sanitation, and family support apart from nutrition.

Uganda undoubtedly has several policies guiding development. NIECD is an addition uniquely calling for a multi-sector collaboration. Yes I have to give it to us, truly congratulations to all those behind this new baby on block. I have surely fallen for this one.

The NIECD policy aside from integration caters for children in the ages from conception to 8 years. Factually from minus, zero years to ‘not-Five’, but Eight! Its guiding principles and policy actions designed enable children to grow and develop to achieve better their full potential. Take for instance policy action 6.2,

Government of Uganda shall ensure that all households are food secure and have proper nutrition for proper child growth and development.

It is one of the pillars and foundation for human development. A sure contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals without a doubt! In my opinion, a policy at the heart of the sustainable development agenda.

So, now that we have it around. How do we apply it to create the impact we all want to see? What does this policy mean to the average Ugandan citizen? Take for instances; an expecting mama Booyi in my village in Atiira or Katiini, the street kid at Clock tower on Entebbe road. What could this policy mean in their daily lives?

Yes, NIECD has an action plan just as any other policy to finally trickle-down effect to the very last young citizen in the country. Sources of funding to implement, who participates to implement, clear accountability lines, what to measure to ensure policy effectiveness, all mentioned in this plan.

Uganda will however have its challenges in implementing this astoundingly ingenious policy. Like any other of course, dawdling communication down to the average citizen is most likely. So let us embrace this one. I rally all of us to receive it with enthusiasm, advocate for it, take up and demand accountability. Let us give our children the best start in life.

Join the Campaign and advocate for #BestStartInLife #NutritionSavesLife on Social Media!

Meet me. I inspire. I move. I lead!

Hello! Meet me if you care to know me that is!

I was recruited to effectively envision an agenda in my country.

To know it. To understand it.  To implement it.

An agenda that I strongly believe I contribute to.

 

I am placed in a host organization to serve an apprenticeship for a period.

To be refined. Sharpened.  And develop skills with precision to achieve that which I was recruited for.

To undertake tasks. Support activities. Work in teams.

Trained. To solve problems. To be creative.

Time and again am called in by my recruiters,

To be assessed. Measured. To evaluate the effect of the exposure.

I should fit an expected class of competencies.

 

And yes, there are experiences that work me out

Sometimes it’s rough, I have to out dare circumstance

I choke on expectations. I strain to meet targets.

Heard of double reporting lines? Double loyalty? You surely must relate.

So yes, sometimes I am in the twilight zone. Moved out of balance.

At least, I have been advised to do yoga!

 

I have learnt by heart the vocation in context in just a fraction of years’ experience.

Imagine the possibility of a young innovative mind matched with years’ experience.

All these skills, I have harnessed for a career I look forward to.

To be ahead of the rest, to stand out of the crowd countless times,

It is a privilege, amazing!

To learn from the ‘corporate elite’ in line of duty.

 

Soon I will graduate out of the fellowship, I am proud to have achieved.

Am confident to pick up the fight against malnutrition. Up to it, indeed!

I should be the winner in all of this! But Uganda is the winner in it all!

It gains effective human resource, next in line, to drive the nutrition agenda.

There are more like me. Holders in nutrition. Advocates for Nutrition.

Adept in Communicating. Trained Innovators. Accountable Leaders.

So, meet me, am a Nutrition fellow!

I inspire. I move. I lead!

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Uganda

Uganda Nutrition Fellowship 2015 (Photo by Rebecca Namara)

 

A journey made fortunate when the waters broke!

‘She is pushing in the bus!’ a passenger so ecstatic screamed.

‘Who?’ ‘What?’ ‘Here?’ as the bus went crazy in sheer euphoria.

Only 22 minutes to Soroti Regional Referral Hospital on a 90km/hour highway coach from Lira and there we saw it all. It was the birth of a fighter. One who paused our world momentarily for over 15 minutes! 71 of us! An entire bus schedule delayed! She robbed us of our time just so she could take her first breath.

In less than an hour, beautiful ‘YY’ received her first meal. And as she suckled at her mother’s breast, it was decided that she would receive her first vaccine in Mbale hospital two hours away en route to Tororo, her final destination. Ayoo’s father who was eagerly awaiting his fierce princess had been phoned on his wife’s fortunate journey the moment her waters broke.

When ‘Sunday’ dropped, her mother still strong from the throes of child birth embarked on her journey to Tororo as if to diminish the painful and rewarding experience. She walked smiling into the bus with the help of her self- appointed courageous maidens from the shack she had been hurriedly pulled into after a quick clean up and change.

This was last Sunday as I travelled to Mbale town from Lira for a nutrition workshop. It had turned out the journey of a lifetime.

‘Was her delivery safe?’ I asked myself. ‘Will baby Ayo receive her BCG vaccine? When will this birth be registered?

These questions never left me for the next two hours to my final destination.

In Uganda, an estimated 6 for every 10 mothers give birth attended by a skilled provider. Only 2 for every 10 mothers receive a post natal check- up within the first hour of delivery and still, 3 for every 10 mothers receive a check up in the first two days after giving birth(Unicef 2015)

Giving birth in the absence of a skilled provider increases the chance of maternal and child mortality if arising complications are not skillfully handled. It also reduces the chances of registering newborns at birth. An estimated 4 for every 10 children under five years are not registered at birth.

Health facilities with trained health workers and drugs are therefore critical in reducing mortality at birth, safe for both the mother and newborn especially because birth registration has been named the first step towards protecting children (Unicef, 2015). Delivery at the health facility ensures early initiation of breastfeeding which comes with immense health and psychosocial benefits.

Giving birth at health facilities should be planned for, financially emotionally and psychologically. Mothers and their spouses ought to take decisions together at households all through pregnancy for better health outcomes for both the mother and her newborn.

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Created by Benardate

The ‘infamous hymn’

She had an arranged marriage. The charming curvaceous Kwagala, was the only grown-up I knew who believed in ‘true love and ‘ever afters’. She had barely agreed to it. She said it was out of necessity. Define necessity in reference to humans in my country and I knew exactly what she meant. Many a time it was told of how parents married off their daughters in a bid to secure their futures, well, newsflash! It’s happening in real times even for the educated! ‘A sure option for the jobless!’ they say.

That was a year ago before graduation. No one is hiring young brilliant nutritionists. The public service isn’t either; it’s still downsizing yearly. This sore reality hits young graduates as if to diminish the value of attaining an education. With a youth ‘full’ citizenry it can only end badly. They are up for causing mayhem. Many colleagues recently joined a pressure group to get the State lift tax imposed on local investors. I admire them, we all fight differently but we fight for job creators, for a better Uganda.

My beautiful Uganda has failed me as a youth. Its education reforms aren’t caching on, annually the prestigious Makerere produces graduates whose skills aren’t compatible with the available jobs. All is not bad though, my empathetic Uganda is investing more in infrastructure, privatizing its economy even further, financing the agricultural sector. How this will work if it works I don’t know, at least it’s trying to get rid of the appalling bug.

The pesky pestilence won itself a strong spot on airwaves as the ‘infamous hymn’ in the city and outland.

So, I wrote!

So, I wrote!

I have been thinking a lot lately, about children. Not the sweetness and joy about them, but about the theft they suffer on our watch. Now before you brush it off as yet another activist making noise on the same issues we’ve been hearing about year in year out, this is very much worth your valuable time.

Yes, children are definitely a gift from God, every religion seems to agree on this and being vulnerable it’s our duty to protect them. ‘Who protects though?’ I question the audacity we each have individually to sit in judgment over this. Does anyone point a finger towards themselves? I mean, I for instance, what am I doing in my community to make a child’s life better, the cute little boy in the next homestead? Little John is hawking fresh maize combs every evening after school to make a contribution to the family bread.

‘Well, he’s helping out his widowed mother and after all he’s attending school every once in a while’. I fight hard trying to convince myself. ‘He’s safe within the neighborhood, besides he has never complained.’ I brush it off still trying so hard to justify my silence to a crime open right before my pure eyes so unmarred from the things of the world.

Oh, yes. Child labor is a crime. Child labor, including its most hazardous forms is on the rise in Uganda. Half of 5 to 17 year olds are working, a quarter of them in hazardous conditions. Children make up the majority of workers in the informal sector, and in rural areas 93% of children are engaged in agriculture and fishing. Children engaged in child labor have a reduced chance to a quality formal education which implies they have few options in future and are therefore prone to commercial exploitation, abuse and poor working conditions.

So think of it this way, how many crimes have you been an accomplice to you ignorant child commercial ‘exploitator’? Yes you have perpetuated in the abuse of this child’s right to protection because in your neighborhood you’ve bought that tasty yummy fresh hot maize comb from that 9 year old little John. Swallow it good and enjoy your crime. I can’t say to you that the police are watching because they are us! Yet I can surely say to you that the Lord is watching and that little John will not forget in his entire lifetime, that he was robbed of the right to feel a child and enjoy it.

I surely thought well, I thought critically so, I wrote!

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Photo by Luboobi Haidar

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