Seeding Change? Improving and Understanding Household Food Security in a Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture Program in Malawi: a Mixed-Methods Study
Margolies, Amy E
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Background: Nutrition-sensitive interventions have been promoted as a way forward to address structural causes of malnutrition. These are programs that pair actions to improve nutrition with other sectors such as agriculture, education or health. However, there is mixed evidence on the impacts of agriculture-based programs. Methods: This study used a mixed-methods approach to address questions regarding the impacts of a nutrition-sensitive agriculture program (NEEP) on household food security, resource-sharing and women’s care capacity. Results: No program impacts were found a year later on two measures of household food security (HDDS, HFIAS), although a significant impact was found in reducing the severity of household coping strategies during the lean season. Secondly, social obligations, reciprocity, and village governance play an important role in determining resource allocation and reveal a morality of sharing during periods of food insecurity. Sharing practices were determined by factors such as the origin and type of resources, as well as by the influence of local leaders. Moral economy dynamics affected the sharing of aid and community perceptions of interventions. Thirdly, women’s participation in NEEP was examined to determine if voluntary program activities added to the burden of care. The program significantly increased time spent caregiving for female participants, but this effect held only during the lean season. However, quantitative increases in time spent in care were small and were not considered burdensome. Further, contributions to the program were viewed as qualitatively important to participants. Programs aligned to community norms are able to capitalize on existing dynamics without generating social division or conflict. Conclusion: The NEEP program adds to the body of literature on nutrition-sensitive agricultural programs, showing potential for an intervention design based on community contributions through preschools. This program aligned to local norms and expectations, avoiding the imposition of what participants deemed to be undue voluntary burdens while also providing protective effects to households during periods of vulnerability.