In November 2019, PHASE Worldwide and PHASE Nepal implemented a new project tackling malnutrition amongst mothers and children in Bajura, Nepal. Funded by the Waterloo Foundation, this project aims to achieve this goal by improving nutritional practices during the first 1,000 days of life. One year into the project, we are delighted to report on the progress that has been made so far.
Bajura is one of the most remote, isolated and least-developed districts in Nepal. The region’s difficult geographical location, dry weather and minimal annual rainfall leads to low agricultural productivity and food insecurity. These problems are exacerbated by a general lack of resources, knowledge and skills, which reflects Bajura’s high rates of malnutrition and poor child and maternal health figures.
Through a community-based practical support programme, the project aims to tackle the high rates of malnutrition in the villages of Rugin and Bichhaya by focusing on both the consumption and production of nutritious food. We believe that embedding an understanding of the benefits of eating healthy food within these communities, as well as the knowledge of how to grow a diverse range of nutrient-rich crops, will result in long-lasting benefits.
To improve the consumption of healthy food, our efforts have concentrated on spreading awareness and disseminating knowledge about the importance of a nutritious and balanced diet during pregnancy and in the first 1,000 days of life; a critical time in a child’s development. Over the past year, PHASE Nepal staff have delivered 12 nutrition workshops as well as follow-up door to door visits to achieve this goal. Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) are trusted community members who play an important role in promoting good health practices. The project has improved the capacity of FCHVs through improved training and guidance on the proper handling of health issues, particularly in terms of nutrition and diet.
The project has also focused on improving knowledge and understanding of how nutritious foods can be produced by farmers in Rugin and Bichhaya. Since the project began, several workshops have taken place to pass on transferrable skills to farmers. Vegetables are often difficult to grow due to the harsh climate in the region, but the workshops have taught farmers how to prepare raised nursery beds and appropriately distribute seeds so that a wide variety of vegetables can be grown. Farmers have also been provided with polytunnels and trained on how to best use this new equipment. Polytunnels are a cheap and accessible way of maintaining temperatures and preserving moisture so that vegetables have the optimum conditions to grow all year round. In many households in Rugin and Bichhaya, vegetable farming and consumption has been achieved for the very first time.
Other workshops have also been organised to train farmers on how to grow mushrooms. Producing oyster mushrooms with hay and straw is a low cost and efficient method of producing protein rich food. PHASE have provided 120 farmers with spawns, plastic bags and tin drums, enabling many farmers to produce a consistent supply of mushrooms.
The funding from the Waterloo Foundation has also been used to strengthen government health services to ensure that basic primary health care needs are being met within these communities. At health posts in both Rugin and Bichhaya, PHASE staff have supported general outpatient services, as well as 24-hour emergency services. This includes maternal and child health appointments, such as antenatal checks, child delivery and postnatal services and immunisations.
The Covid-19 pandemic meant that many project activities were put on hold during Nepal’s national lockdown. Since lockdown was lifted in July, the project has been able to resume in accordance with new safety measures, including social distancing. All PHASE staff in Nepal have also been supplied with appropriate PPE. We are proud of the progress we have made so far with the help of the Waterloo Foundation, and will continue to work hard to support communities in Bajura to improve health and nutritional practices for the remainder of the project and beyond.