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Explaining child malnutrition in two villages in south west Ethiopia : local views and local opportunities

Szava, Anna (2015). Explaining child malnutrition in two villages in south west Ethiopia : local views and local opportunities. PhD Thesis, Charles Darwin University.

Document type: Thesis
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Author Szava, Anna
Title Explaining child malnutrition in two villages in south west Ethiopia : local views and local opportunities
Institution Charles Darwin University
Publication Date 2015-04
Thesis Type PhD
Supervisor Belton, Suzanne
Renzaho, Andre
Schubert, Lisa
Abstract This thesis describes how families in two villages in remote rural Ethiopia feed their young children, how they explain their practice and decisions, and how they see their role in the possibility for positive change.

Though severe food shortages have decreased, stunting in young children, a consequence of chronic malnutrition, is a common problem in this region. Stunting is persistent in spite of the ongoing health education and intervention programmes focussing on the health and nutrition of children under five years of age, and is considered a significant risk factor for diminished childhood and adult health, learning capacity and productivity.

Within the disciplinary tradition of qualitative research my study is positioned in nutritional anthropology. I used ethnographic methods during a 12-month period spent in the field. Household observations, semi-structured interviews and group discussions were the main sources of primary data, which was collected in 51 households and from 24 informants, selected through criteria sampling, in multiple engagements with most participants.

The study found a food culture rich in culinary traditions and social meaning. Nonetheless, the young children‘s, and indeed the families‘ dietary diversity was low, and above all animal-source foods were scarce. Regular periodic food shortages in most years resulted in reduced quantity of food and a further deterioration of its diversity. In addition to the limitations of smallholder farming livelihoods, which formed the economic foundation of the vast majority of local families, cultural priorities drew on the constrained resources of the households. In general the children‘s caregivers were aware of the nutritional inadequacy of the diet and had adequate knowledge of how it could be improved. While they maintained that poverty was the main reason for the shortcomings in the quality and quantity of food, they also recognised that amending or changing some customs and behaviours, which impacted on children‘s nutritional security, was within the domain of their decisions.

I argue that caregivers have reasonable understanding of the connection between health and nutrition, and that changes in livelihood and cultural practices could lead to improved nutritional outcomes. Beside the large-scale programmes of the Government of Ethiopia and international and local NGOs aimed at agricultural productivity and population health, there are opportunities for small projects, tailored to the context, to support local and innovative solutions in the realms of food culture and livelihoods.
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