Combating Malnutrition in DR Congo with Guinea Pigs
Byenda Bitingwe lives with her husband and eight children in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in a village called Minova. Hidden among the hills next to Lake Kivu, Minova has been facing a high incidence of malnutrition among children and women.
One of Byenda’s children suffers from malnutrition. “My son wasn’t feeling well. He was constantly tired, even apathetic. I took him to the hospital where he was examined and immediately prescribed treatment,” says Byenda. “We only have one field and it doesn’t provide enough food for our entire family. We’re looking for some other long-term solution,” she explains. At the time of speaking in 2016, her husband was out of work and agriculture was the only source of livelihood for the whole family.
In 2016, Byenda was selected to take part in an 18-month resilience-oriented project. The aim of the project is to reduce malnutrition in children under five and in women of childbearing age (15 to 49 years) in the Minova region through a multi-sectoral approach. Jean Baptiste Babone, PIN’s Field Coordinator in DRC, explains: “It’s not enough to only treat malnutrition. At the same time we need to address causes and work on prevention. PIN’s multi-sectoral interventions tackle the causes of malnutrition in a holistic way through improved health, food security, hygiene and education. We call this approach IPIN.”
Increasing food and animal production capacity
In Minova, as in other rural areas of DRC where People in Need works, knowledge of crop cultivation and the availability of gardening equipment are very limited, despite appropriate climatic conditions for agricultural production. This is mainly due to the turbulent history of DR Congo, the poor security environment and the limited availability of goods in remote rural areas. As a result, it is common to find just one crop being cultivated – beans, corn or manioc – which may be of caloric value, but nutritionally very weak. These crops then constitute the main part of the local communities’ diet.
“We are trying to expand local agricultural production to encompass other crops, such as spinach, and introduce new methods, such as separating crops in different lines, pest prevention, harvesting seeds for further use, etc., to give people access to a more varied and nutritious diet,” explains Jean-Paul Baderhakobinali, PIN’s nutrition expert and project field coordinator.
People in Need recognises that it is not enough to only introduce and distribute new crops and gardening tools or to provide trainings in how to increase food production; people also have to be taught how to prepare well-balanced meals and improve hygiene habits. “We organise culinary demonstrations where we show how to prepare nutritionally valuable meals. We also provide wash kits and soap and raise awareness of correct hygiene practices. Altogether, this gives people a better chance of preventing malnutrition in their children and alleviating the causes of diarrhoeal diseases,” adds Baderhakobinali.
Another popular approach to combating malnutrition is through guinea pig farming. These furry creatures offer a much-needed source of protein as well as micronutrients and can increase household food security more rapidly than conventional livestock such as pigs and chickens. Furthermore, they are small and easy to hide and thus well suited to conflict zones, where extreme poverty and widespread lawlessness mean that the looting of larger domestic livestock is commonplace. The animals have other advantages: they can be fed kitchen waste and are a relatively low-cost investment compared to other livestock. Crucially, they reproduce quickly, with females giving birth to multiple litters that total 10 to 15 offspring per year. Another advantage is that they also suffer from fewer diseases than pigs, chickens or rabbits. Plus, in the event of disease outbreaks, their high reproduction rate means populations have a much shorter recovery time.
Combating acute child malnutrition
PIN also focuses on the treatment of acutely malnourished children, mostly in the hard-to-access Shabunda region. Work there is complicated by the difficult terrain, where all aid, including medicine, is transported via humanitarian flights and subsequently by motorbikes or even on foot to distant villages and healthcare centres. The worsening security situation makes it even harder to deliver assistance to these remote areas.
PIN mostly focuses on providing nutrition supplements such as therapeutic milk and plumpy nut to health centres for use in treating the most severe cases. This is accompanied by training medical staff, raising awareness in communities about positive nutrition practices and educating people about the timely detection of malnourishment and therapeutic options. Since 2016, PIN has helped build the resilience of 36,330 people in the Shabunda region through integrated, multi-sector assistance.
Dárci: Real Aid, Jaroslav Beran Family Foundation, Miluše Číhalová