Malnutrition in the north of Nigeria, it’s just willingness (IRIN News)

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NIGERIA: Owning up to food insecurity in the north

KATSINA, 28 June 2012 (IRIN) – It is the start of the rains in northern Nigeria, and farmers are out sowing their fields. They know that the next three months will be the belt-tightening lean season, when households need to be prudent to get by, but hardship will give way to the harvest in September.

For the women gathered at a small healthcare centre in Daura, in the northwestern state of Katsina, hunger has come early, and is visible in the ginger-coloured hair and the slack skin of their children.

Hajiya Ladidi’s two-year-old daughter, Kadija, is severely malnourished and enrolled in an outpatients therapeutic programme (OTP) at Gurjiya, one of six run by Save the Children in the Daura Local Government Area. Business has been bad for her husband, an onion middle-man who buys from local farmers and sells to traders heading south. He has another wife, a total of nine children to feed, and the stored grain from last year’s harvest ran out in May.

Katsina, on the border with drought-affected Niger, has a global acute malnutrition rate of 8.1 percent among children aged under five, according to a preliminary survey at the beginning of this year by the UN’s Children Fund (UNICEF). That figure is almost certain to worsen as the lean season sets in, and prices of the staples millet, maize and sorghum rise.

Nigeria is the key food producer in the Sahelian region, but across the northern states there are now 383 sites like those in Gurjiya, providing Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM): a dramatic expansion from the 30 at the launch of the programme in 2009.

The women at the Gurjiya health centre, waiting to have their children measured and checked, understood the community mobilizers’ exhortation to feed their families with nutritious food, the problem was to find the money to do so. Khadija’s mother needs US$2 a day to keep her household fed just the basics, and that is a struggle, she told IRIN.

“In the villages you will just find millet, which is a carbohydrate,” said Ramatle Bello, the OTP officer at Gurjiya, which has 200 children on its books. “They could use beans, eggs or milk, but they are not doing so because they prefer to sell those items to make money.”

RUTF shortages

UNICEF runs the bulk of the OTP sites in Nigeria, and provides the nutrition-rich Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) central to the CMAM programme. Mothers bring their children for weekly check-ups to the government-owned health centres, where they receive antibiotics and health lectures. But it is the 8-week course of high-energy RUTF that changes the fortunes of their children, and when IRIN visited Gurjiya, none was available.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.