In the second of this three-part series, Arinze Chijioke, Elijah Akoji and Simon Ekemini look at how the home-gardening, driven by men is tackling malnutrition in Yobe State and the challenges of the project.
It is 10 am in Kalifadi, a community in Nguru Local Government Area (LGA) of Yobe State, Northeast Nigeria. Usman Bello is attending to his vegetable farm where he planted his Spinach and Lettuce together with Harun, one of his sons behind their house. While he weeds the farm, his son plugs some vegetables.
When he is not hanging out with friends, Bello is nurturing his backyard vegetable garden. He often carries his three children along and as they work, he tells them the importance of vegetables in maintaining good health.
Four years ago, in 2019, Bello lost one of his children to malnutrition- an imbalance in dietary intake-after he could not afford the money to provide an adequate diet. At five months, his wife had already stopped feeding Yahaya with breast milk and resorted to grounded Wheat missed with water.
“Because we did not have the money to afford milk, meat, egg, fruits and vegetables, her body lacked enough energy, protein and nutrients, likewise my son, when he was six, “said Bello.
In 2017, the World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations reported that Yobe in Nigeria’s northeast, had the highest number of malnutrition cases in Nigeria. Between 2017 and July 2021, at least 10,165 children died from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in the state.
This year, the United Nations said that US$396 million is urgently needed to prevent a widespread hunger and malnutrition crisis and scale up humanitarian action in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states. The UN estimates that 2 million children below five in these three states are likely to face wasting this year, the most immediate and life-threatening form of malnutrition.
Having a low income affects the production of milk and the act of breastfeeding which requires more energy from the body. If a mother eats little or less in a day, the quantity and quality of her milk are not affected.
That is the case for many women in Yobe State who often end breastfeeding even before the six months period recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) that all babies be exclusively breastfed after which they should start eating a diversity of solid foods.
Three years after his son’s death, Bello was trained in home-based farming and introduced to residents of Kalifadi and Bubari, two communities in Nguru LGA to help combat the issue of malnutrition and provide a health start-up for infants by the UNICEF.
They planted vegetable seedlings and also learned how to practice poultry to help improve the dietary intake of their children. Nutrient-rich vegetables are part of a variety of foods recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to enable children to grow as they should. These vegetables were always lacking from the diets of Bello’s children.
Anike Alli-Hakeem, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria said that home-based farming is intended to help prevent and reduce cases of malnutrition in the state and help households have access to a more diverse diet for their children and the mother.
For a mother to breastfeed exclusively, she needs all the support that she can get, “she said. “Beyond home gardening, the men also help with other house chores so their wives can rest and eat well to be able to produce milk. They are referred to as breastfeeding males,”.
Bello said that taking part in backyard farming remains one of the best decisions he has ever taken and the best support he has ever got because it has helped improve the health of his family, especially, his children.
“They are stronger now because I ensure that most of our meals have vegetables, “he said. “My hens have reproduced and that means more eggs for our meals,”. It has also been helpful to my wife who is currently breastfeeding our last child,”.
Apart from feeding his family, Bello also sells vegetables and eggs at the local market in his community and with what money he earns, he takes care of other needs in the family.
Children’s health improved
Like Bello, Idris Aliyu does home gardening in his Bubari community. Before he started, his two daughters Hajara and Faiza suffered malnutrition severely.
“At the primary healthcare centre in Bubari, doctors told me and my wife that we were badly feeding our children and that we needed to improve their diet, “he recalled.
Sadly, with no money to afford the appropriate diets, Aliyu kept feeding his children with corn and millet which were staple diets. He thought he was going to lose them.
With the introduction of the home-gardening practice, Aliyu regularly feeds his wife and children with vegetables and eggs from the hen he got, all of which used to be scarce commodities for his family.
Drought challenges project impact
Despite its success so far, both Bello and Aliyu say that drought- which occurs when there is a significant rainfall deficit that causes hydrological imbalances- remains a major challenge confronting the project in Yobe State which is characterized by a single long dry season followed by a shorter wet season.
Agricultural production in the state, like other states in the North, is mainly rain-fed and naturally prone to vagaries of rainfall variability. The State is located in the Sudano-Sahelian vegetation zone, which is characterized by a hot and dry climate for most of the year.
During years of abundant rainfall, households experience bumper livestock production. However, during the years with rainfall deficit, crops die.
“Our major problem is during the dry season, “Bello said. “The vegetables behind my house are green now but once the rain goes, they begin to die because we cannot access water and there is also the challenge of heat”.
This story was produced with the support of Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.