Laos has some of the worst child malnutrition rates in the world – every second child under the age of five in rural areas is chronically malnourished, impacting their physical and mental development for a lifetime. Nutrition knowledge is central to tackle this problem, and WFP's innovative nutrition education programme - Feeding the Future - empowers communities throughout the country to improve their diets and ensure children grow up strong and healthy.
When you cook a soup – or pasta – would you add the salt in the beginning or the end of the cooking process?
This is just one of the apparently obvious questions with which participants in WFP's Feeding the Future nutrition training grapple. Phetdavanh Xayasouk is a programme coordinator at Catholic Relief Services and now a nutrition trainer, after completing three Master Training of Trainers (TOTs) conducted by WFP in 2011 and 2012. "In the past, I just put salt into the boiling water. But thanks to the training I now know that the heat will destroy the iodine that is in the salt!” Like the other 59 participants in the training, Phetdavanh now also knows why iodine is important for her body, and what else she can do to ensure it is preserved in the salt she keeps at her house.
More importantly, the TOT participants have learned how to share such knowledge with villagers in remote areas of Laos, where it can make the difference between a healthy life and one marred by limitations caused by malnutrition.
Laos has one of the worst child malnutrition rates worldwide – every second child under the age of five in rural areas is chronically malnourished, impacting their physical and mental development for a lifetime. In addition, micronutrient deficiencies such as anaemia and iodine deficiency impact large parts of the population.
The objective of WFP’s Feeding the Future nutrition education is to educate villagers about the dangers of malnutrition, and how to use the natural resources in their environment to ensure a well-balanced and complete diet for themselves and their children. The trainings are tailored to the needs of different ethnic groups and delivered in their ethnic languages through colourful visual materials, role playing, nutrition games and cooking sessions.
Phetdavanh Xayasouk likes the concept: “The training helps gradually change the individual’s cooking and eating, not by introducing new types of food, but by modifying what they already have. This approach is very sustainable, both for WFP and the communities involved.”
The TOTs build the capacity and understanding of WFP partners in the Lao Government and NGOs to enable them to conduct Feeding the Future village trainings throughout the country. During the first TOT, participants learn about the main hunger problems in Laos, the impact malnutrition has on the individual, and how to ensure children grow up well-nourished.
In the second TOT, participants learn and practise how to conduct Feeding the Future village trainings and how to monitor progress, and the final TOT explains how to facilitate refresher trainings. This innovative programme is in line with the Lao Government’s National Nutrition Policy, Strategy and Plan of Action, and an important step towards achieving the goals set under the 7th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (2011-2015).
Nutrition knowledge is central to accelerating development in Lao PDR, for its communities and its citizens, especially those living in rural areas. Why? Chronic malnutrition impacts the physical and cognitive development of children. Poor cognitive capacity hampers learning ability, which in turn impacts household income earning potential, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty and under-nutrition. As such, an initiative like Feeding the Future can be an important catalyst to break the cycle of poverty and undernutrition.