What if Doctors Could Prescribe Seeds?
At our 20 Partner Health Centers, clinical staff are able to do just that.
We partner directly with Government Health Centers to integrate agriculture and comprehensive health education into the treatment of malnutrition. We believe that by addressing the root causes of malnutrition through peer education in addition to seeds and seedlings, we can equip families and communities with the knowledge, resources and support to overcome malnutrition in the long-term.
Three times per year, clinical staff at our Partner Health Centers refer patients diagnosed with malnutrition to our program. We then work with each patient’s caregiver, most often their mother, to design and plant a home garden that promotes both crop bio-diversity as well as dietary diversity. At the same time, we provide families with peer-developed and peer-delivered health trainings designed to address the complex and inter-related factors that can make it more difficult for families to feed their children a wholesome diet.
By partnering directly with health centers and staffing Field Educators as part of clinical personnel, we are building a scalable model with an effective entry point: malnourished children at the point of clinical care. At each Partner Health Center, two Field Educators work with 40 families per season, reaching 120 families per health center per year, and helping a total of 2,160 families this year to get, and stay, healthy.
Targeted Agricultural Support
Our agriculture team works to blend international innovations in sustainable agriculture with time-tested Rwandan farming practices in order to help every family with whom we work to make the most of their existing resources.
Our Home Garden Package is the core deliverable that we provide to each family in our program. It includes small livestock (chickens or rabbits) in addition to three seasons of seeds and seedlings and is designed to promote both dietary diversity and biodiversity. For example, we encourage families to grow indigenous vegetables that are rich in nutrients and grow better in the local soil. Starting with our 2017A cohort, we launched an updated version of our Home Garden Package that includes options designed specifically for the soil and climate of each region where we work.
Specifically, we provide each family that comes through our program with an avocado seedling, orange flesh sweet potatoes, and chili peppers. We then encourage them to select one vegetable per season from each of the following categories:
- Leafy greens
- Market crops
- Fruit trees
In this way, families are not simply given a standardized, one-size-fits-all seed package. Instead, we give them the knowledge they need to make an informed decision about which crops will grow best on their land, most improve their diet, and earn the most income at local markets. Our approach to agriculture is premised on the belief that we must invest in the health of the land families farm in order to effectively improve long-term physical health. To that end, our weekly agricultural trainings are designed to promote sustainable farming practices that improve soil quality and reduce soil erosion while also improving access to a diversity of foods.
Home Garden Package
Recently, GHI’s Agricultural Team proposed several changes to our Home Garden Package (HGP). The purpose of the changes is to provide a more standardized and impact-oriented HGP for home gardens in order to increase household production and consumption of diverse, nutrient-rich foods.
Our agricultural inputs are designed to encourage optimal dietary diversity and quality. A diverse array of inputs serves as a tool to demonstrate the practicality and accessibility of producing a diet rich in diverse vegetables and animal-sourced foods for household consumption.
GHI’s Home Garden Package is grouped into categories from which program participants in our Health Center Program select. By introducing the element of choice, program participants feel ownership over the inputs provided and are more likely to invest personal energy and resources into growing these crops.
In addition to dietary health, crop diversity is also a crucial element for building a resilient farm capable of producing adequate quantities of food. Crop diversity is also key to management strategies that build the capacity of the land and reduce the risk of crop failure.
The principles of GHI’s updated Home Garden Package include:
- Increased access to nutrient-dense and diverse foods for Families
- Access to diverse foods for household consumption
- Access to high market-value vegetables
- Increased empowerment to make healthy choices
- Low-cost, effective inputs and practices (self-replicable inputs)
- Increased resiliency to environmental and nutritional shocks
Comprehensive Health Education
We recognize that seeds alone won’t solve malnutrition. Rather, we must invest in the agency of mothers and families, equipping them with the knowledge and resources to keep their children healthy for the foreseeable future. Our weekly health education program is designed to do precisely that.
Based on community feedback, our 14-week curriculum addresses the many factors beyond household food production that can contribute to malnutrition. Our health curriculum was designed in partnership with families we serve and is delivered by talented community leaders who have often struggled with similar challenges to partner families. It includes a range of topics that are can be overlooked, but are often actually intertwined with a mother’s inability to provide her children with a consistent source of nutritious food, including:
- Family planning
- Financial literacy
- Mental health
- HIV/AIDS prevention
- Gender-based violence
As a result, not only does our health education arm mothers and families with the information and skills they need to overcome malnutrition, it also serves to build networks of support that extend far beyond the 14 weeks families spend with us.