Project Food Security

It is high time for a post about what many of you lovely souls donated time, money, or a listening ear to support.

Our projects focus on several different health topics. In the winter, each team member picked which projects they wished to focus on. We have 2-3 projects each and are expected to advise/rally when the call to arms comes in from other team members. I’ll provide some insights (or at the very least, information) on the variety of projects over the coming weeks, starting with those that I am focusing on.

First up: Food Security—a topic rather dear to my heart.

Food security exists when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. The concept of food security is defined as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people’s dietary needs as well as their food preferences. Food security is a complex sustainable development issue that affects health, economic development, the environment, and trade.

In 2013-2014, a community assessment determined that over 90% of the community experienced some form of food insecurity (based on a metric set out by the Canadian government). Despite high rates, community members did not see food insecurity as a primary concern. A number of speculations could explain why, including: habituation to malnutrition, not understanding the connection between malnutrition and health, impact being extended over the lifecourse, other health concerns taking priority, and misunderstanding between getting enough calories and proper nutrition (among others).

Last year, the opportunity arose to include farmers in a workshop on sustainable agriculture that was being held for another one of our partners. Sustainable agriculture is an important component of food sovereignty, which includes both the right to food and access to resources such as land, water, seeds, and biodiversity, as well as having a voice in the food economy. This concept ultimately affects the food security of a community.

The 2015 team has been tasked with taking an evaluatory approach, examining the implementation and appropriateness of our projects. Our first few weeks were spent conducting a context analysis. We held focus groups with farmers and met with the local Agriculture Extension Officer (AEO) to gain an understanding of the needs and concerns of both community members and government. Partially, our analysis revealed that farmers greatest concerns were regarding market access, resources, and lack of governmental assistance (essentially that the AEO wasn’t doing his job). The AEO implied we should give farmers tractors.

Ultimately, our analysis determined that the needs of the community were beyond the scope of 7 university students, none with a background in agriculture. It is challenging to let go. To accept the realization that despite best efforts, you will not be able to address community needs. However, the process of health promotion is not cut and dry. We may poke fun at the adages “start where the people are” and “empower from within” but they ring true. We cannot ensure that Kikongo and Mwanabwito become food sovereign but we can work with farmers to connect them to resources that will ultimately impact food security.

Over the coming weeks, we will be putting the pressure on the AEO to connect with organizations that provide mentorship and training in the areas farmers identified as priority. We hope that involving farmers and government in the conversation will increase accountability for assistance and application on both sides. While it wasn’t what I expected it to be, this project is shaping up to be a good experience of taking a back-seat approach to a health issue.

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