The nutrition-microcredit synergy: A case for multiple interventions and strategies
Poor diet quality is the primary determinant of the high prevalence rates of malnutrition in Ghana. In this West African country, young children’s diets primarily consist of cereals and roots which have both low energy and nutrient density and poor bioavailability of micronutrients. A 2008 national survey reported that over one-third of children consumed no nutrient-rich Animal Source Foods (ASF) on the previous day. An intervention to enhance children’s diet and nutritional status was developed based on the assumption that improving knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of caregivers would lead to increased use of ASF for young children only if ASF availability (presence in the communities) and accessibility (families’ ability to obtain ASF through purchase, trade, hunting, or raising animals at home) were also improved. The Enhancing Child Nutrition through Animal Source Food Management (ENAM) project introduced an integrated approach of microcredit and weekly sessions of nutrition education and entrepreneurship training among rural women to increase the use of ASF in the diets of their 2- to 5-year-old children. Although the project may have not reached the poorest women in the community, the integrated activities benefited many households in diverse ways – directly through increased income and improved productivity that improved purchasing power and made foods available in the home, as well as indirectly through the empowerment of women participants. Women reported increased self-confidence, leadership skills, and social capital. Children’s diets benefited the most when caregivers were engaged in enterprises related to ASF because they facilitated sharing ASF with children and the high profits from these activities increased mothers’ ability to purchase other ASF from the market. Other family members also benefited from the project through women sharing loans for joint economic activities, improving the quality of the diet for the whole family, and sharing new knowledge. Integration of rural bank partners from an early stage of the project helped transfer activities to these permanent institutions to expand and sustain project activities. The ENAM project provided the evidence that an integrated package of microcredit and education can improve household food security and improve the diet and growth of young children living in rural communities.