In Kenya, the prevalence of undernourishment is more than twice the world average and the highest among all regions. Extreme poverty has been cited as one of the leading causes of malnutrition among children under the age of five. For individuals who are already experiencing acute malnutrition, poverty makes it even more challenging to escape malnourishment due to increasing healthcare and food costs and decreased productivity, perpetuating a nearly inescapable cycle of worsening nutrition status and health. In 2019, 79% of the Kenyan population could not afford the costs associated with maintaining a healthy diet. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the percent of the global population experiencing malnutrition by 17.85% in 2020 alone.
To address this systemic issue, the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance is funding the Nawiri Project, a Development Food Security Activity. The first of its kind in Kenya, Nawiri is designed to sustainably reduce persistent acute malnutrition through a multi-sectoral approach in four counties in Northern Kenya. In partnership with Catholic Relief Services, Village Enterprise adapted our poverty graduation program for nutrition by layering it with additional components of cash transfers for consumption, health and nutrition education, counseling, and social behavior change.
The adapted nutrition-friendly graduation approach focuses on helping the poorest and most vulnerable households develop sustainable livelihoods, increase incomes, improve access to nutritious foods, address nutrition-sensitive interventions that contribute to a reduction in acute malnutrition among children under the age of five, and lift themselves out of poverty.
Over the past year, Village Enterprise focused on piloting–and assessing the effectiveness of–the adapted poverty graduation program to combat malnutrition in the Isiolo County of Kenya. The county is very remote and suffers from floods, drought, animal diseases, resource-based conflicts, and gender discrimination. The pilot targeted 600 households, launching 204 sustainable businesses and 20 business savings groups.
The early success of this program has been tremendous, with the proportion of participating households’ that met the Acceptable Food Consumption Score increasing from 51.3% to 83.8% over three and a half months. Even more significant, the percentage of children between the ages of six months to 23 months who met the minimum acceptable diet measurement rose from 6.38% to 31.65%. The business savings groups saved, in just four months, over two million Kenyan shillings (close to $18,000 USD) to use for accumulating assets, investing in business ventures, or saving for emergencies. Testimonials from entrepreneurs showed increased resilience to the ongoing climate shocks, particularly for entrepreneurs rearing livestock, who were able to diversify their businesses to cushion themselves from the negative effects of market price fluctuation, drought, and livestock disease.
The success of this pilot has already led to additional funding to scale the project to launch 1,400 small businesses this coming year, that will impact the lives of over 25,200 people including 10,920 children under the age of five, providing a positive outlook on the otherwise troubling state of global persistent acute malnutrition.
A recent article in the Nation, a leading Kenyan newspaper, demonstrated how our graduation approach has been adapted in the Nawiri project to tackle challenges in multiple sectors (poverty, environmental degradation, malnutrition, and health).
In November of 2021, members from USAID visited the project, holding a series of meetings and calls with project stakeholders to discuss progress and implementation. To read the activity briefs, click here.
Photo Credits: Anthony Nyandiek, CRS USAID Nawiri, and Michael Ekeno, Village Enterprise