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Malawian Women as Agents of Change for Nutritional and Agricultural Development

Place: malawi, Africa
Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health
Total Budget: € 1.000.000,00 | Period: From January 2011 To July 2014


This initiative is a three and half years project, initially co-funded by Barilla and then carried out by Save the Children alone with donations from individuals. Its goal is to improve food and nutrition security for 11.000 under-five children hosted by 8.311 households in the Traditional Authority (TA) of Mpama and Likoswe in Malawi. This has been done working on three different areas:

  1. enhancing nutrition status of 11.000 under-five children: at the end of the project there is an increased adoption of improved nutrition and complementary health behavior practices and an improved food utilization;
  2. increasing the agricultural production for 8.311 households: at the end of the project the production of legumes and sweet potatoes and of livestock has significantly augmented;
  3. enhancing and diversifying the income for 8.311 households: at the end of the project the access to markets has increased and well-functioning Village Savings and Loan Groups have been established.


Save the Children Italy - Italy

Lead applicant

Save the Children is the leading Independent Organization that works to improve the lives of children in Italy and in the world. Since 1919, it operates in 120 countries through a network of 30 national organizations and an international structure (Save the Children International). In the World, Save the Children is a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) with consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC). Save the Children implements - in close collaboration with local communities - medium and long term programs and intervenes in emergency situations caused by conflicts or natural disasters. It also puts pressure on governments and national and international institutions in order to improve the living conditions of children. It operates in the following areas: education, health, emergency response, protection from abuse and exploitation, fight against poverty and food security, strengthening child protection systems and child participation.

Opportunity International Bank of Malawi - Malawi

Initiative partner

VISION: Our vision is a world in which all people have the opportunity to achieve a life free from poverty, with dignity and purpose. MISSION: By providing financial solutions and training, we empower people living in poverty to transform their lives, their children’s futures and their communities. HOW: We support local microfinance organizations that provide innovative financial solutions to empower people, create jobs and build vibrant communities. Our products, services and trainings enable clients to develop businesses, to save and to insure a promising future. We strengthen and influence value chains to benefit our clients, connect them to viable markets and drive economic progress. We create innovative partnerships to provide complementary services to our clients. We seek to impact the lives of our clients, staff and supporters.

Bunda College of Agriculture, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources - Malawi

Initiative partner

To advance knowledge and produce relevant graduates with entrepreneurship skills for agricultural growth, food security, wealth creation and sustainable natural resources management, through teaching, training, research, outreach consultancy and sound management.

Save the Children Malawi - Malawi

Initiative partner

The key feature of Save the Children’s approach is to support development and effective implementation of government-led programmes, by aligning with national priorities, as articulated in the MDGs, MGDS and sector plans through the following breakthroughs: - Child Health and Nutrition: No child under five dies from preventable causes; and the public will not tolerate a return to high levels of child deaths. - Education: All children can read by the time they leave primary school; and children caught up in humanitarian crises have access to quality education. - Child Protection: All children thrive in a safe family environment; and no child is placed in harmful institutions. - Child Rights Governance: All children, especially the poorest, benefit from greater public investment and better use of society’s resources in realizing their rights.

‘Seeds of Knowledge - Seeds of Change’ This is the story of low income and marginalized families and farmers based in rural areas of southern Malawi, who had the chance through Save the Children's intervention, to expand their human capital and trigger a change in their paths as well as offering a better life to their children. By absorbing improved nutritional attitudes and behaviors, young mothers give to their children a healthier life. By employing traditional agricultural practices, the land gets restored, the food quality is enhanced and the livestock production is ensured. By promoting new income generating activities and financial support mechanisms, households acquire a safer environment to go ahead. In this framework of best practice we wish to tell their stories: success stories that deserve to be told.

‘Selecting Best Seeds'
Save the Children’s project adopts a grassroots-based integrated approach, which identifies local positive resources and focuses on the wider transfer of those knowledge and skills already existing in the community:

  1. It identifies and promotes positive and culturally appropriate practices in nourishing and caring for children. This is achieved through a community learning process led by mother-to-mother support groups using innovative participatory techniques (e.g. plays and storytelling);
  2. it fosters the adoption of best husbandry practices for chickens and soil/water conservation technologies rooted in the local culture (e.g. positive evidence of home-made food for poultry proves healthier animals);
  3. it builds on existing farmers’ groups by structuring them in cooperatives and linking them to key actors. It develops farmers’ capacities in raising and mobilizing funds within the same community through the Village Savings and Loans model.
Gathering Resources It’s early morning when women get together for their regular meeting with the Village Saving Loans (VSL) group. During these reunions, women have the opportunity to understand the progress, pay back or ask for a new loan. Tania, the leader of the group (wearing a blue sweater with white and red stripes in the middle) is carefully taking notes and ensuring that every woman has the chance to get through.
Small Bellies Grow Community Child Feeding and Learning Sessions (CCFLS) is an intensive behavior change intervention targeting families of children affected by mild or moderate malnutrition. Here, undernourished children are enrolled on a 10-12 days session which provides them with special nutrient meals, that are able to ensure a rapid recuperation of the child. This photo shows a group of 9 women who participated in CCFLS.
The main innovation Matthew Pickard, Country Director of Save The Children Malawi is giving background information on of how this intervention became a Best Practice. “Save the Children have been continuously working to refine this innovative Model. If today this is our Best Bractice, it is not only for the holistic and integrated approach developed and used, but especially because it is built on expanding and enhancing the assets of our beneficiaries making them the core of this change”.

‘Know the soil and remove the weeds’
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 170 out of 186 in the Human Development Index and a GNI per capita of US$320. After decades of underdevelopment and a growing HIV/AIDS problem, Malawi is struggling to get back on its feet. Although its population (almost 18 millions) mainly lives on agriculture, 45,4% of children under 5 still suffer from malnutrition, and an extremely low percentage of families are food secure (10,2%). The average diet is built by 60% of starches and has micronutrient deficiencies, also due to feeding practices. Only 11,7% of households harvest adequate energy foods and less than 7% of them consume chicken. This landlocked country often undergoes extreme natural disasters -from heavy rainfall to drought- which  continually put at stakes the harvest. Moreover, weak agricultural techniques and the use of chemical fertilizers have deteriorated the soil quality, increasing the exposure to droughts and floods.

Babra Jamali, age 42 My granddaughter Desire is 17 months old. When she was 4 months old she stopped breastfeeding. I didn’t know what type of food she needed so I was feeding her with oat meal but still, she was malnourished. When the project started, I attended the Community Complementary Feeding and Learning Sessions where I learned the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and how to prepare various types of nutritious porridge to avoid our children from becoming malnourished.
Esther Chipozya, age 29 I knew nothing neither about conservation agriculture, nor about crop husbandry practices. Through a training on post harvest handling and storage, I learned how to store the maize, and I am happy to say that conservation agriculture is the greatest benefit that I got from this project. Now I use all the practices which allows me to harvest maize that will last 10 months, unlike before when it only lasted 4 months.
The land where Maize grows The majority of Malawi’s food supply is derived from highly vulnerable rain-fed maize production (as shown in the photo). Availability of food is also affected by seasons and climate change. Food is often compromised in drought and flood areas, where imported food aid has been used in recent years to fill the gaps. Low production is also exacerbated by diminishing land holdings and deteriorating soil quality, both from the addition of chemical fertilizers and overuse.

‘Harvesting the Good Crops’

  • Reduced cases of cholera, malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia since specific training sessions and use of Energy Saving Stoves. Reduced incidence of malnutrition, increased frequency of breastfeeding, higher proportion of mothers taking children for growth monitoring and with acceptable food consumption scores, due to behavior change interventions and cooking demonstrations.


  • Improved soil fertility through increased cultivation of pigeon peas, groundnuts and soybeans;
  • increased supply of vitamin-A (through vitamin-A enriched sweet potatoes) and nutritious fruits by enhancing productivity of fruit trees;
  • improved poultry production and consume of animal proteins.

Income diversification:

  • Higher income from selling agricultural products thanks to better in production and better in storage;
  • more opportunities for agribusiness started-up and managed using the productive loans from 300 Village Savings and Loans associations.
1,2,3…Kilograms Every month the Care Group Volunteers (CGVs) move for the Growth Monitoring (GM) sessions. They follow-up child growth, during routine visits (in GM centers or at home), providing tailored counseling depending on the height, weight and age of children. Last month, Marian turned 3 years old and now she will start to change her diet. Her mother, Sara, learned how to prepare the complementary food, that will help Marian to grow healthy.
Doroty Chapola, age 62 Before this project I didn’t know anything about Village Savings and Loans (VLS). I had no business and I couldn’t afford to have three meals a day. My grandchildren were affected too, in fact they were malnourished. Today, I am part of the VLS group and, thanks to the loan I got, I was able to start a small business: I buy and sell tomatoes and onions. With my first profit I was able to buy one pig, and now I have four! This gives me the chance to offer my grandchildren a healthy future.
The main results achieved Save the Children invests in both nutrition and health as we believe they are indispensable components for achieving helpful and sustainable results in the development sector. We’ve decided to focus on under five children, beacuse we are aware that malnutrition has important consequences on the economic growth. A child properly fed today is not only healthier, but also achieves better results in his/her adult life: by investing in children, we invest in the potential of future generations .
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Main results achieved Achieved results are presented in three categories, namely nutrition, agriculture and income diversification. In each slides there are graphs describing the progresses as well as the relevant impacts that the project has trigged.

‘Give me a seed and I’ll give you a plant’
8,311 households with under-five children living in areas affected by chronic malnutrition in Chiradzulu District benefitted from Save the Children’s intervention. Their most urgent needs are:

  • Meet their dietary requirements, especially in terms of animal protein intake: they have unsatisfactory food consumption scores and low dietary diversity. Even though half of the households keep livestock (mainly chicken) they do not use it as meat/diary product and they lack skills in food processing;
  • improve crop productivity: families strongly depend on farming but the food they harvest is not enough to take them throughout the year;
  • access markets for their products: small holder farmers lack a proper understanding of the functioning of markets, as well as skills to enter and participate in it;
  • diversify income to buy more nutritious food: they need a better access to financial services and skills to start new income generating activities.
Matilda Yobu, age 33 I used to depend on government’s coupons to buy fertilizer, which were never enough, thus I used to harvest only 5 bags of maize. However, it was not enough to sell and make money to support my family. Thanks to my savings from Village Savings and Loans, I have been buying 4 bags of fertilizers and I harvest not less than 30 bags of maize. By selling some maize, I am able to pay private schools fees in the community and to buy good kitchen utensils.
What are we cooking today? I never thought about cooking as something important for my children. I always cooked basic meals like porridge and although they were eating, I could see there was something wrong. My first child was very weak and I couldn’t understand why, but when I changed his diet, his conditions improved. I never knew the solution was so simple and I am happy that today I can support my family. It is a blessing to know that we can easily grow different legumes and vegetables two steps away from our home.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Main beneficiaries and needs addressed Through graphs and tables we present the main needs of our target groups in terms of agriculture and nutritional needs.

‘We are more than farmers, we are seeds’ guardians’
Save the Children:
Project Manager, in charge of managing the grant and the team;
Nutrition Assistant, in charge of building the skills in maternal child health and nutrition;
Agriculture Extension Assistant, in charge of crop production matters;
Monitoring Evaluation learning manager.
Bunda College of Agriculture:
Professor of Animal Breeding and a team of technicians, in charge of livestock production;
Opportunity International Bank of Malawi:
Project Manager and a Loan Officer coordinating the activities related to loans and savings.
The project has also worked in collaboration with community structures:
14 Health promoters working with 760 lead volunteers on health and nutrition issues;
21 Community Agents working with Village Savings and Loans groups;
147 Lead farmers supporting agricultural production;
21 Paravets supporting livestock farming;
21 Agribusiness Chairpersons working with producer groups for marketing activities.

From garden to fork A total of 1.133 home gardens have been established, out of which 259 were for local vegetables such as kamuganje and bonongwe. Many farmers have noticed the sustainability of the cultivation of nutritious crops using seeds which they kept from the previous harvest. This is Jacob a Lead Farmer: he helped provide nutritious vegetables for both his family and the neighbors.
Jailosi Kadyampakeni, age 37 The project has trained more volunteers on the new guidelines of the District Health Officers for growth monitoring to promptly detect cases of moderate malnutrition. As a result, trained volunteers called "Health Promoters" have facilitated weighing of under five children at least once a month in a location at a reasonable distance where caregivers can afford to walk to. They record basic anthropometric indicator in a dedicated “growth monitoring register”.
A strong partnership The Bunda College of Agriculture encouraged innovation and research as well as the Opportunity International Bank of Malawi which has supported loans and savings groups. But the central role is given to our communities by stimulating their knowledge, strengthening their own structures, making them accountable and legitimate leaders of their future. Every seed they received through this intervention is a seed of knowledge, a seed of hope.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Human resources involved in the Initiative Two slides are attached; the first one illustrates the Organization Chart showing how the partnership operates at all levels, while the second one is dedicated to give additional information about the team members' profile.

‘Solutions for brooding chicks’
The incubator used by the government for the provision of chicks broke just before the distribution, and the project had to source them from private suppliers, whose prices were slightly higher. In order to ensure that every household planned still had the opportunity to receive chicks, Save the Children proposed three conditions under which, those interested in receiving a chick, were advised to: 1) prepare home-made feed, 2) agree that they will donate 5 other chicks to their fellow farmers with under five children, 3) vaccinate the chickens every 3months, by paying a fixed fee, which paravets charge per each vaccination. An agreement was elaborated and signed by both parties and witnessed by the Village Committee Representatives. This arrangement encouraged farmers to take good care of their chickens, as well as ensuring that more farmers were and will be engaged as active beneficiaries even if the original number of chicken was lower than planned.

Chicks to few, chicks to all! In 2013 Ann received 5 black Astrolorp chickens and signed an agreement with Save the Children to pass on the same number of chicks to another household with under five children. Making use of the skills and knowledge learnt in the training, Ann prepared adequate feeding and provided for the vaccinations of her chicks every three months. Once her stock hatched she gave 5 chicks to Joseph, whose story is told in the next picture.
Joseph and his chicken’s housing In this picture, Joseph is showing the small livestock housing that he has constructed using project’s recommendations. Joseph has two children below five years of age at high risk of moderate malnutrition. When Save the Children made the first distribution of chicks, Joseph did not receive any chick but took active participation to the training. He was among those people who received chicks on the second round, directly from Ann, a fellow farmer.
Paravets play a special role Paravets are a special group of people involved in the project. Their role is important for the community, so that farmers have healthier chickens. On the other hand they represent a new income generating activity, which contributes to build sustainability to the project, in fact every farmer pays a small fee to receive the service of a paravert. The photo shows the chicks recovery house of a paravet.

‘Local seeds mean green processes’

  1. Defense of biodiversity and prevention of soil’s impoverishment: the project contributes to maintain the diversity of local crops by promoting the use of local nutritious seeds and their wild relatives such as kamganje, luni and amaranthus.
  2. Soil and water conservation: the project introduced a model based on regular shift of legumes, sweet potatoes and fruits production (which do not require chemical fertilizers and fix nitrogen in the soil). An effective water management is guaranteed by the creation of a water collection system, which effectively distributes water for domestic and agricultural use.
  3. Agricultural waste management: green waste from agriculture is used to produce home-made food for animals.
  4. Forest preservation: the introduction of improved stoves for cooking and heating has reduced the necessity to cut wood for energy consumption, with positive health outcomes (e.g. reduction of cases of pneumonia).
Improved cooking This is a fuel saving stove that has been introduced to help women in food preparation and processing. It is made of few bricks and mud. Thanks to its size and capacity, it directs heat efficiently to the pot, using much less wood to cook, thus preserving the environment. Additionally, considering that it is recommended to eat warm food, another advantage of this stove is that mud retains the heat, keeping the food warm and preventing women to make another fire to heat food.
Tippy Tap This is Alide Austen, a 7 years old girl from Ngumwiche village in Chiradzulu. She is washing her hands using a sanitation facility known as TIPPY TAP: a plastic bottle fixed next to a pit latrine outside the house. It is filled with water previously boiled and filtered. The system is designed to make sure that water is not wasted, in fact, the water is released from the bottle only when activated by a person’s foot which makes the bottle bend.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Environmental impact The slide is presenting some of the mechanisms and technologies that triggered a positive impact on the environment and were introduced by the project.

‘Sharing seeds - sharing knowledge’
Save the Children’s project has been duplicated to another district called Neno, in partnership with Bunda College and the Ministry of Agriculture. The following models were developed and have being replicated:

  1. Care Group Approach, through which every targeted household is supported directly by a lead volunteer, assigned to at least 10 new initial households.
  2. Private Service Provider (PSP) model, through which the best performing Community Agents will be certified as PSP and will support Village Savings and Loans groups on a paid basis by community members.
  3. Increased utilization of paravets, adequately trained on identifying and treating poultry diseases, who are put in the condition to buy medications from the vet clinic and sell their services to local farmers, with a reduction of chickens’ death.
  4. Marketing Clusters, responsible for mobilizing farmers to buy inputs in bulk, reducing costs, and sell in bulk negotiating for better prices.
Transferability and duplicability Save the Children’s role is to design and monitor all the activities and record leanings and experiences which will be transferred to other communities. In this case, we’ve already spread this best practice in other districts. However, it is very interesting to see the system through which farmers are directly transferring their knowledge to other farmers, who did not benefit from this intervention. They triggered the tangible mechanism that ensures transferability and duplicability.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Transferability and duplicability The slides show initiatives for the transferability and duplicability of the intervention, as well as the 5 manuals elaborated for the capacity building of Volunteers leading the Care Groups Approach.

‘Bring Malawi to the World’
How do we plan to disseminate the results of Save the Children's intervention?

  • By publishing in scientific journals several pieces of relevant researches such as: 1) evaluation of crossbreeding of Black Australorp with local chickens under different management systems and 2) evaluation of feed supplement for scavenging chickens.
  • By integrating policy briefs: the innovative and alternative options for crossing local chickens under scavenging systems will be presented at Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET).
  • By spreading the experience with the Everyone Campaign of Save the Children Italy, which states that ‘No child is born to die. And no mother should die giving birth’. In particular, the 2014 campaign focuses on the impacts of food insecurity and malnutrition on young-mothers and newborns. The initiative presented herein, has been included in the report of the 2014 Everyone Campaign to testify and disseminate a best practice.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Dissemination There are several activities that have been planned to disseminate the achieved results, some of which have already been carried out, as the workshop with partners and local authorities, or the exiting meetings. The slides list the major activities as well as links where this best practice has been presented.