Study Reveals Livestock Feeds Reduce Acute Child Malnutrition in Dry Season
This post is written by Joy Wanja Muraya, Josphat Muema, Mutono Nyamai, Irene Kimani, Francis Wambua, Joseph Njuguna, AbdalMonium Osman, Erin Boyd, Chris Jost and Thumbi Mwangi, FAO.
The skies dried. The grass withered. Water disappeared.
As the drought set in, it squashed the hopes of 23-year-old Ntigingwa Leparnat, who lives in a remote village in Marsabit County, Kenya. Her 15 camels, 15 goats and 3 cows needed pasture and water quickly. In turn, she needed milk for her four children and to sustain her own livelihood.
However, unlike in previous years, when drought thinned Leparnat’s herd, threatening her and her family’s food and nutrition security, she now had a way out.
In 2019, Leparnenat joined the Livestock for Health Program (L4H) set up by FAO in partnership with UNICEF, Washington State University, nongovernment organizations and the Government of Kenya at national and county levels with the generous support from the Office of Technical and Program Quality, Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, USAID. The program provides livestock feed to various households such as Leparnenat’s during long periods of drought. The study has demonstrated that provision of livestock feed during critical dry periods has a significant positive effect on sustaining milk production, availability at household level, increased frequency and amount of milk consumption and prevention of acute malnutrition among children and women in pastoralist communities in Kenya. L4H’s strategy equally contributes to the empowerment of women by bettering nutrition and health education outcomes aimed at preventing malnutrition in children under five and in pregnant and lactating women often seen during the dry season.
The goal is simple. To build on local mitigation strategies where pastoralist communities leave behind a few milking animals at the homestead when the rest of the herd migrates in search of pasture and water. This provides a supply of milk for women and children.
Through the L4H program, livestock feed is given to these lactating animals so that the steady supply of milk does not run out during the dry season, which can also prevent spikes in cases of acute malnutrition.
Data on milk production at the household level, milk consumption patterns and measures of undernutrition for women and children are then collected and compared between livestock-owning households that received the livestock feed intervention and those that did not.
Leparnenat said the L4H program improved the milk production and the health of her livestock, within just 18 months of her enrollment.
“When the goats previously went foraging for pastures, we could barely get two cups of milk per day,” Leparnenat recalled. However, with 2 kgs of feed in the morning and evening thanks to the L4H program, the milk production of her animals had doubled.
“I get a total of four cups of goat milk per day. We use the milk to make tea for the family and the rest we sell to the neighbors,” she added.
In the same entrepreneurial spirit, Leparnenat sold one of her three healthy cows. She then used the proceeds, Kenyan Shilling (KSh) 30,000, to build and stock a shop, saving her community members long trips to the market for regular household supplies, such as beans, rice, maize, flour and sugar.
At the shop, she also installed a mini-solar unit, which she uses to charge mobile phones for her village mates at KSh 20.
“Selling our cow was the best decision I made because it enabled me to open up this business. I enjoy running the shop because of the extra income. I can now spend more time with my children, especially the youngest who is about two years old,” she said.
Livestock is a major source of livelihood for the people of Marsabit County. But in the last few years, climate variability has drastically changed their fortunes, leading to lack of sufficient pasture for their animals. As a result, this has constrained household diets for children, due to lack of milk, an essential protein source.
The L4H program is funded by the United States Agency for International Development Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The program is collaboratively implemented with several other key stakeholders, including Washington State University, UNICEF, Marsabit County government, the National Drought Management Authority, the Pastoralist Communities Initiative and Development Assistance (PACIDA), and Concern Worldwide.
To test the effect of the provision of livestock feed with and without nutritional counseling on reducing the risk of acute malnutrition in women and children, the L4H program employed a cluster randomized control trial with two intervention arms and one control arm. The project worked with nearly 1,800 households in the Laisamis area of Marsabit County in Kenya distributed across the three study arms.
The L4H Project Coordinator, Dr. Josphat Muema, noted that the empowerment of mothers like Leparnenat showed meaningful participation in economic decision-making at the household level, including the type of food to feed her children and the entire family.
The results from the preliminary analysis show sustained milk production, availability at household level, increased frequency and amount of milk consumption and prevention of acute malnutrition among children and women in pastoralist communities of Kenya.
Additionally, nutritional counseling provided under the program added benefits including for nutritional improvement indicators. The intervention was cost-effective for cases of wasting averted, suggesting these livestock-based interventions are a critical tool for addressing the challenge of spikes of acute malnutrition in drylands and the subsequent well-established long-term consequences of child malnutrition. The final report and publications from the study are under preparation and will be made open access.
The results point to a need for policy actions towards allocation of predictable and adequate funding for livestock programs that integrate nutrition actions. Further, there is need to design and scale up nutrition-sensitive livestock programs, including in early warning alerts. Predictable funding is needed to ensure upscale of programs, including during onset of emergencies, therefore aiding in preservation of livelihoods and nutritional status.
“My children are healthier now due the lessons learned from the Community Health Volunteers on the nutrition lessons from exclusive breastfeeding to the supplementary foods that I can give them once they are six months old,” Leparnenat said.
"The L4H program has brought great health and economic benefits to my family, including lessons that I will practice every day," she concludes.