The United Nations estimates that 2.2 million children in Ethiopia are experiencing wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition. By focusing on local assets, a recent study from the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development offers a more holistic approach to addressing nutrition deficiencies with locally available and inexpensive raw foods.

Infants and preschool-aged children in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to protein energy malnutrition (PEM) and micronutrient deficiencies, according to the study’s author, Adamu Belay, Food Science and Nutrition Research Directorate of the Ethiopian Public Health Institute. Despite improvements in chronic malnutrition in Ethiopia over the last 15 years, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) finds that 28 percent of child deaths are associated with undernutrition.

To combat nutrition deficiencies, humanitarian aid organizations often utilize strategies like ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), school feeding programs, supplementary doses of vitamin A, and nutrition education. But Belay argues that these projects create dependency on other countries, which is not sustainable long-term.

Localizing food production can counter childhood PEM and support the local agricultural economy at the same time. Greiner tells Food Tank that projects promoting community gardening “can make a big difference and be sustainable.” More attention should be given to raising awareness and increasing the status of locally available foods, as well, he says.

In parts of Ethiopia, these localization efforts are underway. “The Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) encourages communities to use locally grown crops to address children’s nutritional deficiencies in a variety of ways,” Dr. Fentahun Mengistu, Country Director of SAA Ethiopia, tells Food Tank.

The SAA educates and raises awareness among communities and extension agents of the importance of nutritious commodities and nutrition. It also helps communities increase their income and purchasing power, which can channel resources back to the farmers who are cultivating these nutritious foods.

At the farm level, the SAA assists farmers in adopting “nature-positive farming systems” to grow “diverse and nutrient-dense crops such as indigenous crops,” says Mengistu.

Read the full article about nutrition in Ethiopia by Katelyn Yee at Food Tank.