Royco ‘Follow My Green Food Steps', an exciting new programme, launched through a new partnership between Christian Aid and Unilever East Africa, is tackling malnutrition among adolescent girls in Narok county, Kenya.
The project aims to improve the nutrition among adolescent girls (10-19 years) including who are pregnant as well as mothers with young children.
Tackling malnutrition among adolescents is crucial, as this is a key stage of development for both the young mothers and their children.
A study carried out by Christian Aid in 2018 in collaboration with the Ministry of Health showed that 16.2% of adolescent girls in Narok county had stunted growth due to poor nutrition; this is significantly high. Narok also has one of the highest number of adolescent pregnancies in the country, currently at 40% against a national prevalence of 18% (KNA 2017).
Teenage years bring additional physiological changes posing energy and nutrition demands on girls, which are further increased in pregnancy and lactation. Unilever’s previous research in other countries, Kenya included, has shown that including Royco iron- enriched stock cubes in diets can provide iron in diets while making food palatable.
'As girls transition between childhood and adulthood, the growth spurt of puberty, physical changes and the nutritional needs that come with it, and self-consciousness and awareness’s implications on changes to eating habits and food choices can have significant impact on adolescent nutrition. We know that negative effects of adolescent malnutrition, especially deficiency in energy, protein, calcium and iron, persist throughout a woman’s reproductive life.'
Dr John Kitui, Christian Aid Country Manager in Kenya.
The partnership between Christian Aid and the Unilever Royco brand is raising awareness around healthy eating through activities and training including cooking demonstrations using the stock cube. Teenagers and their mothers are being educated on the importance of an iron-rich diet, in order to prevent anaemia, through the consumption of iron fortified stock cubes and iron-rich leafy vegetables which can be grown locally.
'Research shows that teenage girls and women suffer disproportionately from iron deficiency anaemia because of their unique physiological needs and due to low iron intake from foods. Our commitment to the health and wellbeing of our consumers is evident in our bringing innovative food products to the market and in community engagement to sensitize the masses towards the iron deficiency challenge in the country as well as create preventative behaviour change through nutritious cooking.'
Bontle Modiselle, Royco Brand Manager at Unilever.
The girls are currently putting into practice what they’ve learned by assisting with food preparation and tending to kitchen gardens where they grow their own locally sourced crops.
'Meeting the increased demands for energy and nutrients by the body at this stage is critical to preventing future health problems for girls and for their children later in life, yet traditional nutrition programmes leave adolescent girls behind. It also creates avenues for discussing delayed marriages and pregnancies for girls and their families', said Dr Kitui.
Through the project, both Christian Aid and Unilever are exchanging the knowledge, skills and expertise learned thus far between the NGO and private sector respectively.
Christian Aid is working in partnership on Unilever’s brand led behaviour change model which is incorporated into the project design and has so far improved the project’s value for the target recipients.
The partnership is fostering a better understanding of community systems, the values of working together with local organisations and cross-sectoral work with both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education for sustainable change.