Soils, Food and Healthy Communities

Soils, Food and Healthy Communities

All of the project’s activities focus on the end goals of improving child nutrition, food security, and soil fertility, with an emphasis on community-based, participatory methods. Seed distribution and training for new participants and annual field days are project activities in common with other agricultural projects. The project has also, however, integrated several activities to promote agricultural, nutritional and social practices which differ from other agricultural programs. The following are the project’s current key activities:

Seed Distribution and New Participant Training – Each year, new farmers ask to join the project. Farmers are selected to join based on food security ranking (low food security households are selected first), interest and farming ability. The Farmer Research Team distributes legume seed to those farmers who have been selected, and provides training on legume plant spacing, crop residue incorporation and food preparation. An average of 400 farmers have joined annually since 2000.

Field Days – Field days are an annual event in which participating SFHC farmers invite other farmers and farmer organizations, hospital staff, government, and media to visit selected fields and learn what crops and cropping methods they are using, followed by a gathering at a central point where there are speeches, dances, dramas, and food. A common theme raised by the farmers is the importance of ‘family cooperation’ in improving child nutrition, and the need for using these legumes for the benefit of the family.

Recipe Days – The FRT organize these days to promote and demonstrate a diversified diet with different nutritious recipes using the legumes from the project. Villagers participate in cooking, learning about and eating different meals. These recipe days are held at different times of the year to highlight different issues, for example ‘hungry season recipe days’ and ‘harvest recipe days’. Recipe days are also used to promote male involvement in cooking and feeding young children.

Farmer Exchange Visits – These visits were organized to encourage the farmers to learn from and share with each other. A small group of farmers is chosen from a village to go to another village in the region to learn about agriculture and nutrition topics of interest.

ANDG – The Agriculture and Nutritional Discussion Groups (ANDG) are an approach that integrates agriculture, health, gender and social relations. The purpose of the ANDG is to use a problem-solving, conflict resolution approach to adapt legume systems at a household level to improve soil fertility, food security and child nutrition. Community members were self-selected to join the groups. The groups, operating in three village areas, have approximately 80 members each, with subgroups of 20 members each composed of either older men, older women, younger men, or younger women, all of who should have a child under two in their family. The intention is to foster discussion between different ages and genders and to encourage problem-solving across gender and generational divides.

Each group meets twice monthly and carries out participatory, problem-solving activities on different agricultural and nutritional themes. The themes were developed by SFHC staff and their co-facilitators, who are community members in either the FRT or the NRT. It is hoped that the groups will change household gender dynamics, increase knowledge of nutrition, increase exclusive breastfeeding and improve complementary feeding. We hope that learning achieved in the groups spreads to other households through the ‘informal chatting’ already found to be a key source of information for villagers.

Crop Residue Promotion Days – These days are organized once a year by the Farmer Research Team. FRT members perform demonstrations in various villages, in order to promote the burial of crop residues. Incorporation of legume crop residues will improve soil organic matter and soil fertility for future crops.