Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life increases their susceptibility to disease and can lead to death or stunted growth, impairing cognitive ability and reducing school and work performance. Malnutrition during infancy can have profound effects on a person’s ability to achieve their full human potential.
Agricultural development programmes can have positive impacts on young child nutrition by increasing household food production, increasing available income to purchase healthy foods, and empowering women to make decisions on how household income is spent. With women in many rural societies shouldering both food production and domestic responsibilities, such programmes may affect child nutrition positively or negatively, depending on their impact on women’s workload and time available for childcare.
NRI researchers, Dr Kate Wellard, Dr Pamela Katic, Dr Lora Forsythe and PhD student, Gwen Varley, are collaborating with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Africa Innovations Institute in Uganda on a research project under the Drivers of Food Choice programme supported by UK Aid and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The research aims to understand how maternal agency, maternal workload and the food environment interact and affect women’s food choices and child diets. In this context, maternal agency refers to the freedom of a mother to formulate ideas, make choices and use resources for the wellbeing of herself and her child – and contributes to empowerment.
The project has been working with rural communities in Eastern Uganda, conducting a set of detailed assessments including maternal and child diets, women’s time use, livelihoods and gender empowerment.
Results show dietary diversity of both mothers and infants to be inadequate. Almost all mothers are working over 10.5 hours a day (the threshold for empowerment in time use in the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index) and only a tiny minority are considered to have achieved overall empowerment.
Links between women’s empowerment, women’s time use and dietary diversity are being explored. The study has identified women’s perceptions of ease of access to different foods, whether from their own farms, local markets or other sources, as important in improving diets. Producing a diverse set of food crops and livestock has been found to contribute positively to child dietary diversity.
Communication of findings on factors driving improved child diets will be targeted to policy makers and planners in Uganda and internationally to improve design of nutrition-sensitive agricultural programmes.
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