Improving Afghan Children’s Nutrition with a Kitchen Garden

Improving Afghan Children’s Nutrition with a Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden Produce & Afghan Boy

The carefully irrigated and shaded kitchen garden provided welcome splashes of different shades of green against the surrounding dry brown soil and rocks. We congratulated Shukria, a community health worker (CHW), on the lush vegetables and ripening fruits as we entered her home.

Shukria explained that the gardens that she and other women were growing started with the community-based growth monitoring program through the Family Health Action Groups. The growth monitoring is successfully identifying children under two who were not gaining enough weight or were undernourished. She and other mothers spent time counseling the mothers of the identified underweight children.

The group uses stories and pictorial books that were developed by USAID’s BASICS project (Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival) to teach mothers what to feed their children to have a balanced diet, how to prepare the food for children of different ages, and how often to feed them.

The emphasis is on locally available foods that create a balanced diet for children. In Bamyan, potatoes and wheat are easily available, but carrots, spinach, and other needed vegetables are scarce. To address this challenge, BASICS has partnered with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to provide local vegetable seeds to the CHWs to start demonstration kitchen gardens. Now, the CHWs can show mothers and the community that a mix of healthy vegetables and grains can be grown locally and enjoyed by the children.

This effort is a critical attempt to reduce illness and death in children. Under nutrition slows physical and mental development and it weakens children’s immunity and makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia---the main killers of children in Afghanistan.

The demonstrations by the CHWs have raised the enthusiasm for the growth monitoring program. More mothers are now attending sessions with their children. They are no longer shamed because they cannot give the correct food to their children. They listen carefully to the advice about a balanced diet because, with the seeds provided, they can now start their own kitchen gardens.

BASICS/Afghanistan, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), provides technical assistance to the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan to address newborn health, community case management of childhood illnesses, nutrition, pediatric hospital care improvement, behavior change communications, and systems strengthening.

Bill Newbrander is Principal Technical Director at MSH.