The newly launched four-year Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture Programme will play a key role in the fight against stunting, wasting, and their root cause: malnutrition.
This past week saw the launch of the Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture Project (NUSAP) in Lao PDR’s capital, Vientiane. The project aims to improve the nutritional status of rural populations, particularly children and pregnant/lactating women, by increasing local availability and access to nutritious food in parallel with fostering behavioural change. As implementing lead, NIRAS facilitated discussions among stakeholders and partners from national and provincial levels around the project objectives, design, and tentative work plans.
Malnutrition rates in the northern provinces of Lao PDR are high, affecting close to half of all children under five years of age. According to the latest national study, the rate of stunting – a condition caused by malnutrition – is 33% of the national population, 37% in rural areas, and 43% in remote rural areas. The main underlying causes include lack of nutritional awareness, shortage of diverse foods throughout the year, and poor accessibility to healthy diets due to low incomes. The Government of Lao PDR prioritised the fight against malnutrition with the adoption of its National Nutrition Strategy and Plan of Action 2016–2025 (NNSPA). In 2016, the European Union signed a partnership valued at EUR 50 million to support NNSPA. Under this agreement, NIRAS provides technical assistance to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in implementing NUSAP.
Jointly funded by the EU and the French Development Agency, the EUR 5.7-million programme seeks to mainstream nutrition-sensitive approaches in agricultural extension services and strengthen nutritional awareness among the rural population, particularly pregnant and lactating women.
The project will be implemented in four northern provinces: seven districts in Luang Prabang, two in Phongsaly, and one each in Huaphan and Luang Namtha. From 2018 to the end of 2019, the project will run exclusively in Luang Prabang province before being rolled out to the rest of the districts.
Improving knowledge about nutrition and enabling people to grow and actually eat more nutritious food is very challenging in remote areas. We believe that district agriculture officers are key players to achieve this objective in a cost-effective and sustainable way.
Throughout the project’s four-year duration, NIRAS will work with ministry staff to facilitate participatory planning of NUSAP activities at the village level, establish village banking schemes to support nutrition-sensitive agricultural activities (for example home gardens and the processing and conservation of nutritious food), and strengthen nutrition focus groups where the linkages between agriculture, nutrition, and natural resources are discussed. Furthermore, NIRAS will provide continuous mentoring to ministry staff in the key aspects of programme management.