Dietary Diversity's Importance in Nutrition Programming


We are facing a global nutrition crisis where consumerism has left some hungry, others obese, and many misinformed on why their health is suffering. Counterintuitively, those closest to food production often suffer most from the lack of a balanced diet. The monocropping method of agriculture, popularly adopted around the world, along with the loss of agricultural knowledge that promotes biodiversity, has left subsistence farmers extremely vulnerable to malnutrition. Even if farmers keep a portion of their crop for themselves, they lack the variety needed to sustain a balanced diet and healthy development.

Food “for sale” during mock market exercise at Kayanga Health Center.

Food “for sale” during mock market exercise at Kayanga Health Center.

While Gardens for Health International (GHI) focuses it programming in Rwanda, the need for nutrition and agriculture education is not limited to countries with developing economies. Globally, our food systems could be improved with an increase in agricultural knowledge and value. There is a Western generalization suggesting malnourished populations must be starving, underweight, and too poor to purchase food. The reality, however, is far more nuanced. Malnutrition can be the outcome of starvation, but it can also be the product of nutrient deprivation, which can result from a variety of different circumstances. While malnutrition may cause stunting and wasting, it can also cause obesity, and sometimes presents a simultaneous combination of these three symptoms. Malnutrition is most often the result of poor food diversity and quality rather than a lack of caloric intake. Eating a balanced diet is imperative for the various ways our bodies function through different nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

The digestive system is extremely complex in its multiple functions for the human body. Our digestive tract breaks down food, extracts nutrients, and excretes remaining organic material. Simple enough. However, in order for the digestive system to function efficiently, the right elements must be available for chemical reactions to break down food. After the absorbed nutrients have left the digestive system, body tissues need specific elements for additional chemical reactions to convert those nutrients into usable energy. These elements consist of different vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients received from food.  

Interestingly, the digestion of different macronutrients (carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins) is a codependent process. The products from the chemical breakdown of one type of macronutrient become inputs for the chemical breakdown of others related in function. Without a balance of all three macronutrients, none will be digested and absorbed into the body at maximum efficiency. Ergo, if a child in Rwanda is eating a diet of almost entirely carbohydrates, as many do, their bodies do not have the the proper chemicals to break down those carbohydrates, or get the most nutritional value from proteins when they do have a chance to consume them. For the body to digest food most efficiently, it’s essential to consume the right foods in the right proportions.

Vitamin A and Iron consumption are considered vital because a diet lacking either of these nutrients contributes to anemia, causing a low red blood cell count. Being anemic causes the body to become fatigued and draw energy from certain bodily functions in order to focus on vital organ activity. This is what causes the prevailing symptoms of malnutrition; stunted growth, wasting, slowed intellectual development, weakened immune systems, and fatigue.

GHI’s 4 Color Wheel Model stresses the importance of dietary diversity at every meal. This visual, composed to abridge the complex details of why the digestive system needs a variety of nutrients, legibly shows our partner families that a balanced meal is achievable with familiar, limited resources.

The most direct and effective source of the vitamins and nutrients we need for healthy digestion and development can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating whole foods (foods that have not been processed) is the best way to get these vitamins and minerals in the proper dosage, otherwise known as a balanced meal. By increasing the diversity of the crops being grown at home, GHI has been able to drastically improve the diets of our partner families in Rwanda. Malnutrition is particularly crippling during prenatal and childhood development, when the brain, heart, and digestive system are rapidly growing. If a child’s growth is stunted during their formative years, their body may never recover fully, even with the most thorough efforts. GHI recognizes this sensitive time period and the importance to teaching dietary diversity as a long-term treatment of the root causes of malnutrition.

We also use a Home Garden Package Model conveying the benefits of local fruit and vegetable species, as well as simple livestock. GHI designed this model to translate the prevalent vitamins and minerals in different foods to the health benefits they provide. This model was also designed with freedom of choice in mind. It is central to our mission in empowering partner families to make informed decisions about what they want to grow and eat.

The models we use in our nutrition programming are specific to our values. At GHI, we want to provoke long-term behavioral change that puts Rwanda on a track towards eliminating malnutrition. The goal of our nutrition programming is to emphasize the importance of diversifying one’s diet, while portraying a diverse diet as tangible and desirable. We pair our models with hands-on health and agriculture trainings that engage our partner families and encourage a community based approach to change. Although we can promote change, it is our partner families who implement and nourish it, for generations to come.

Donate to GHI today to make access to healthy food a reality for families across Rwanda.

Translation by Monica Mutoni


Umwanditsi na Megan Bateman, Amafoto na Maggie Andresen

Imirire itandukanye ndetse n’akamaro kayo mu gushyiraho gahunda y’imirire ikwiye.

Turimo guhura n’ikibazo cy’imirire mibi aho abantu barya byinshi basiga bamwe  bashonje, abandi bafite ubyibuho ukabije, ndetse abandi badasobanukiwe neza impanvu ubuzima bwabo buri mu kaga. Bikomeje kugaragara ko abantu begereye aho ibyo kurya bihingwa nibo bakunze kuzahazwa no kubura indyo yuzuye. Uburyo bugezweho ku isi bwo guhinga igihingwa kimwe hamwe n’ubumenyi buke ku bijyanye n’ubuhinzi  byatumye abahinzi benshi bahura n’ikibazo cy’imirire mibi. Nubwo abahinzi   bibikira bicye mu byo bahinze, babura ibiryo byinshi bifasha mu kugira imirire ihagije ndetse n’iterambere mu buzima bwabo.

Mu gihe Umurima w’ubuzima wita cyane ku gushyiraho gahunda ihamye mu Rwanda, imirire myiza ndetse n’ubumenyi ku buhinzi ntago bikenewe gusa mu bihugu bifite ubukungu bukizamuka.  Ku isi hose, uburyo bwacu bw’imirire bushobora kongerwa imbaraga n’ubumenyi ndetse n’agaciro ku buhinzi. Hari imyunvire abantu benshi bagira bavuga ngo  abafite imirire mibi baba bashonje, bafite ibiro bike cyane, ndetse bakennye cyane ku buryo badashobora kwihahira ibyo kurya.  Ariko ukuri  nuko ibi bitandukanye. Imirire mibi ishobora guterwa n’inzara, ariko ishobora no guterwa n’intungamubiri nkeya mu biryo abantu barya, ibi bikaba bishobora gutera ingaruka zitandukanye. Mu gihe imirire mibi ishobora gutera kugwingira, ishobora no gutera umubyibuho ukabije rimwe na rimwe igatera byombi. Imirire mibi  akenshi iterwa no kutarya indyo zitandukanye ndetse no kurya indyo mbi. Kurya indyo yuzuye  n’ingenzi ku buryo imibiri yacu ikora bitewe n’intungamubiri zitandukanye.

Umuyoboro w’ibiryo ufite imikorere itandukanye mu mubiri w’umuntu. Imiyoboro y’ibiryo yacu icagagura ibiryo, ikayungurura intungamubiri, ikanasohora ibidakenewe mu mubiri. Ariko, kugirango umuyoboro w’ibiryo ushobore gukora neza , hagomba ku hari ibintu bitandukanye kugirango ushobore gucagagura ibiryo. Nyuma yuko intungamubiri zayunguruwe zikava mu muyoboro w’ibiryo, umubiri uba ukeneye ibintu runaka kugirango izo ntungamubiri zibyazwe imbaraga umubiri ukoresha. Ibi bintu umubiri ukoresha birimo amavitamine, imyunyungugu, ntetse n’izindi ntungamubiri ziva mu biryo.

Igitangaje cyane nuko intungamubiri zitandukanye ( ibinure, ibiterimbaraga, ibyubakumubiri) buri kimwe gikora kubera ikindi. Iyo ubwoko bumwe bw’intungamubiri bwivanze mu mubiri, bifasha ubundi bwoko runaka bw’intungamubiri nabwo bukivanga mu mubiri. Intungamubiri eshatu zavuzwe haruguru zitabaye ziri mu mubiri zose, nta nimwe yashobora kwicagagurwa ngo yivange mu mubiri ku rugero ruhagije. Urugero, iyo umwana mu Rwanda ariye indyo irimo ibiterimbaraga, nkuko beshi babikora, imibiri yabo ntago iba ifite imbaraga zo kuyungurura  ibyo biterambaraga ngo byivange mu mubiri cyangwa se ngo babone ibyubakumubiri, bagira amahirwe yo kurya indyo irimo ibitunga umubiri, bagakuramo intungamubiri zirushijeho. Kugirango umubiri ubashe gucagagura ibiryo neza, ni igenzi kurya indyo yuzuye kandi ihagije.

Vitamine A ndetse na imyunyungugu ya feri iyo biriwe, bibarwa nk’intungamubiri zifite akamaro gahambaye kubera ko indyo ibura izi ntungamubiri ituma umuntu agira amaraso make mu mubiri. Kubura amaraso mu mubiri bituma umubiri unanirwa ukagerageza gukura imbarga mu bindi bice by’umubiri kugirango urengere ibice byigenzi by’umubiri. Ibi nibyo bizana ibimenyetso by’imirire mibi. Kugwingira, kudakura mu bitekerezo, umubiri ukananirwa kurwanya indwara, ndetse n’umunaniro. Isoko yambere y’ibirinda indwara ( vitamins) kugirango umuntu agire ubuzima bwiza  n’imbuto ndetse n’imbonaga. Kurya ibiryo bitaciye mu nganda nibwo umubiri ubona amavitamine, ndetse n’imyunyungugu ku kigero gihagije bakuze kwita indyo yuzuye.

Umurima w’ubuzima washoboye guteza imbere imirire y’imiryango ikorana nayo ibishobojwe no guhinga ibihingwa bitandukanye. Imirire mibi izahaza cyane  abana bataravuka ndetse n’abakiri bato cyane, igihe ubwonko, umutima, ndeetse n’umuyoboro w’ibiryo bikirimo gukura. Igi umubiri w’umwana udahawe amahirwe yo gukura neza aki muto, haba bari ibyago by’uko utazigera ukura neza mu gihe kizaza niyo hakoreshwa ingufu. Umurima w’Ubuzima wita cyane kubana bakiri bato n’akamaro ko kurya indyo zitandukanye  nk’uburyo burambye bwo kubarinda imirire mibi. Uburyo bw’igishushanyo cy’amabara ane cy’Umurima w’Ubuzima  kigaragaza akamaro ko kurya indyo  zitandukanye buri uko umuntu ariye. Iki gishushanyo cy’amabara ane kigaragazo ubusobanuro bw’ukuntu umubiri ukeneye intungamubiri zitandukanye kandi ugaragariza imiryango yacu ko umuntu ashobora kurya indyo yuzuye n’igihe adafite ibikoresho bihagije.

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Dufite kandi gahunda y’uturima tw’igikoni igaragaza akamaro k’imbuto n’imboga  bitoshye ndetse n’amatungo magufi. Umurima w’ubuzima washyizeho iyi gahunda kugirango  kugirango hongerwe imyunyungugu n’ibirindindwara mu mafunguro mu rwego rwo kugira ubuzima buzira umuze. Iyi gahunda n’igenzi cyane ku ntego yacu mu gushishikariza imiryango dukorana nayo kumenya impanvu bahisemo guhinga no kurya ibiribwa runaka.

Ubu buryo dukoresha muri gahunda yacu  buhuye n’indangagaciro zacu. Mu Murima w’ubuzima dushaka kubyutsa imyumvire irambye ishyira u Rwanda mu nzira yo kurandura imirire mibi. Icyo twifuza muri gahunda yacu ni ugushimangira akamaro ko kurya indyo zitangukanye, mu gihe tugaragaza icyo indyo itandukanye ivuze ndetse n’impamvu ikenewe cyane. Ibi tubikora biciye mumahugurwa y’ubuzima n’ubuhinzi bworozi duhereze imiryango dukorana nayo kugirango kominote yose ishobore guhinduka. Nubwo twigisha  impinduka, ni imiryango dukorana nayo ishyira mubikorwa, ikazanayigisha abejo hazaza.

Tanga inkunga mu Murima w'ubuzima mu buryo bwo gufasha imiryango yo mu Rwanda kubona indyo ihagije.

Byashyizwe mu Kinyarwanda na Monica Mutoni