Increasing food security through the Southern Africa Nutrition Initiative

“These days things have changed. My husband supports me and in taking the child to under 5 appointments. [Husband] cooks and prepares the food for all to eat and we even laugh together now.”

When does nutrition make you laugh?

“These days things have changed. My husband supports me and in taking the child to under 5 appointments. [Husband] cooks and prepares the food for all to eat and we even laugh together now.”

That’s what you can do when you look not just at nutrition, but also at equality. Sure, kids more visits to a health center, and better exclusive breastfeeding—and those are important impacts. When you ask women what looks different to them, they say now they laugh with their husbands. That’s a huge change.

The Southern Africa Nutrition Initiative (SANI) ran from 2016-2021 with $23.5 million (US) from Global Affairs Canada. It reached 234,000 people directly (including 125,557 women) and 498,000 people indirectly in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. The project partnered with CUSAO, ICAD, and McGill University.

What changed?

  • More people have food. Food insecurity dropped 18 percentage points in Malawi and 9 percentage points in Mozambique. That also included narrowing the gender gap. In Mozambique, families where men were in charge saw their food security go from 16% to 22%. Where women were in charge, the number jumped from 12% at the beginning to 27% at the end of the project.
  • People, especially women, are eating better food. The number of women who are eating a diverse diet went up 20 percentage points in Zambia and 50 percentage points in Malawi. In Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia, the number of children who ate an acceptable diet went up to about 30%, a substantial increase for all three countries.
  • More people are drinking safe water. The number of people who treat their drinking water nearly tripled in Zambia. In Malawi, it went up 6 percentage points, and in Mozambique, it was a 16-percentage point increase. The number of people with improved water sources went up in all three countries.
  • Kids are healthier, and health systems stay functional. Health workers say that kids are healthier—and in Malawi, diarrhea dropped by 36%. One health worker says, “I used to see more than 50 cases of diarrhea in a month …. There were so many cases that the hospital where they were sent would often be overwhelmed. Now, we only see about 10 cases or fewer a month which is manageable at the clinic.”
  • More women own land. In Zambia, the number of women who own land went up 30%, to 75% of women at the end of the project. In Mozambique, the number jumped 50%, up to 92%.
  • Women get more involved in decisions. In Mozambique, women felt they had more influence at home. “The benefit of this training is that now at least we can sit together and prioritize what needs to be done and purchased. Now in my household, certain foods or quantities aren’t reserved for any specific member.” In Zambia, water committees showed a real change for women making decisions. 78% of women feel like they can make decisions about water. One woman describes the change like this, “women voice their opinions about community water supply in public.”
  • Chores are more equal. In Mozambique, the number of women who believe men and women should share chores equally went from 28% to 73%--nearly tripling the belief in equality in housework. One woman says, “I have noticed a change in my husband, he helps in the preparation of food, particularly when I am walking to and from the market. He did not do this before.”

How did It happen?

  • Focus on equality and changing attitudes. The project worked to address social norms that make it hard to achieve nutrition. One community leader in Malawi says, “In the past, we used to say, “gender... gender...”, without really understanding what it means. Now we have come to understand that gender equality means this one can do that, and that one can also do this.” That was part of the Social Analysis and Action strategy.
  • Help people gain new skills. Women participate in the project because it has value to them. As one woman outlines, “I joined the vegetable because I didn’t want to be left behind in learning new ideas.” The project helped with seeds, fertilizer, and training for 1,500 household gardens.
  • Support community health workers. The project worked with Community Health Workers who grew their confidence to deliver health and gender messages. They also got better mobility and access to tools they needed to work—like bicycles, T-shirts, and toolkits. In Mozambique alone, health workers visited 2,991 women.
  • Partner with local groups at all levels. In Malawi, the team worked with the Civil Society Organization Nutrition Alliance that has 106 member groups that focus on nutrition. In Zambia, local groups like the Chikanjebela Women’s Club spread nutrition messages and train male champions. All of the countries worked with health workers, VSLA groups, and producer groups at community level.
  • Invest in women leaders. The project ensured that in Area Development Committees have 50% women in their ranks so women are involved in making decisions.

Want to learn more?

Check out the final evaluation.