The Malnutrition Challenge in Isiolo County:
Isiolo, comprising three sub-counties – Isiolo, Garbatulla, and Merti, witnesses two distinct rainy seasons, one from March to May and the other from October to December. The majority of Isiolo’s residents are engaged in agriculture, with 53% involved in pastoral farming, 3% in agro-pastoralism, and the remaining 44% holding salaried positions.
Specifically, areas like Sericho in the Garbatula Ward, Oldonyiro, Ngaramara, Chari, and Cherab within the sub-counties are malnutrition hotspots. This is primarily due to drought conditions leading to livestock losses, which, in turn, limit children’s access to milk at the household level. Shockingly, around 15% of children under the age of five in this county suffer from malnutrition. An analysis of dietary diversity profiles reveals that 70% of households primarily consume cereals, 69.9% rely on fats, and 56.6% incorporate vegetables into their diets.
Several factors drive malnutrition in Isiolo County, including household food insecurity, child morbidity, inadequate Maternal Infant and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN) practices, insufficient Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) interventions, poverty, migration, and security concerns. These factors collectively contribute to the exacerbation of malnutrition in Isiolo.
Fortunately, numerous interventions have been implemented to address this pressing issue. These interventions include launching the Kenya National Action Plan for Nutrition (KNAP), a substantial increase in the number of nutrition officers from 3 to 18, with an additional 11 recently deployed- thanks to the support of Members of County Assembly (MCA). Moreover, the establishment of a Multi-Sector Platform for Nutrition (MSP-N), the creation of a Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) chapter, the integration of nutrition into Early Childhood Development Education, and the implementation of high-impact nutrition interventions have all played a vital role.
These concerted efforts have yielded substantial results, with a noticeable reduction in stunting from 21.6% in 2016 to 15% in 2023 in Isiolo County.
Strengthening Nutrition Advocacy in Kenya:
Nonetheless, in the heart of Kenya’s bustling capital, Nairobi, something remarkable has been unfolding. Since 2022, the Civil Society-Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN), Nigeria Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Civil Society Alliance (CSA) had embarked on a transformative journey to shape Kenya’s nutrition landscape. Through a series of dynamic initiatives, CS-SUNN has successfully reinvigorated the country’s nutrition systems, reinforcing the significance of nutrition in Kenya.
Shaping Nutrition Champions:
The two-week journey of Kenya Scaling Up Nutrition-Civil Society Alliance (KSCSA) activities, with the support from CS-SUNN, began with the training of nutrition champions from across Nairobi’s diverse counties. (Homa Bay, Kiambu, Bomet, Mombasa, Taraka Nithi, Nairobi, Migori, Makueni, Narok, Nyamira and Isiolo counties). Leaders and advocates convened to learn about the principles and strategies of effective advocacy. Key dignitaries, including the First Lady of Makueni County and the Majority Leader of Homa Bay County, Speaker of Narok County Assembly, Migori County health committee chairman graced the meeting. The workshop addressed a wide range of topics, highlighting the nutrition situation across Kenyan counties and instilling the art of advocacy. Advocates discovered that advocacy is a powerful tool for change, rooted in strategy, clarity of purpose, and evidence. Participants dived into the intricacies of advocacy, understanding its vital role in influencing policies, practices, and attitudes. They learned that advocacy is a journey, not a destination, and that its success hinges on evidence, partnerships, and effective communication.
Empowering Advocates to navigate the Budget Processes:
On the second day, the focus shifted to budgeting and power dynamics. It was revealed that Kenya loses KSH 373.9bn annually because of malnutrition. Advocates explored the budgeting system in Kenya, identifying irregularities and late-stage participation by civil society organizations citing that this late engagement leads to missed opportunities for effective advocacy. Advocates gained insight into the importance of early involvement in budgeting and the critical role they play in providing data needed for informed decision-making by the government.
The power mapping exercise delved into the complex web of influence, outlining the importance of understanding power dynamics to bring about social change. Advocates learned to identify key decision-makers, allies, and opposition, an essential step in shaping their advocacy efforts.
The Power of Effective Communication:
The significance of effective communication was highlighted. Advocates discovered that communication is an essential element of advocacy, and its success depends on clear, concise, and compelling messages backed by accurate data. They explored the principles of effective communication, emphasizing the importance of audience understanding, communication objectives, and strategic approaches.
A Pledge to Kenya’s Nutrition Future- Fostering Legislative Support:
A Breakfast meeting titled ‘Nutrition Financing Round Table discussion’ with members of the county Assembly (MCAs), nutrition champion nominees from different sub-counties, representatives of the county executives and directors from the ministries of Health, Agriculture and Gender was part of key activities towards securing improved funding for nutrition in Isiolo County.
The Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Adan Dullo Fatuma declared the meeting open. She said ‘the county is ready to set funds aside to make sure, the nutrition of the people is taken care of. Let me remind parliamentarians that for donors to support county technically and financially they require commitment from the county government. This commitment lays the foundation for partnerships that can drive meaningful change’.
A Call to Action and commitment making was taken by the Majority leader and signed by all MCAs. The MCAs pledged their commitment to supporting nutrition initiatives and ensuring that funds are allocated to address this critical issue. The Co-Chair of CS-SUNN, Mrs. Aji Robinson commended the legislators for their commitments and and conveyed her optimism regarding their commitment fulfillment.
Global Collaboration & The SUN Global Networks Meeting:
CS-SUNN facilitated a vital meeting of SUN Global Networks, government representatives, civil society organizations, and national ministries in Nairobi. The focus was on planning the SUN Global Gathering (SUNGG) in Rwanda in 2024. The platform discussed the modalities for this groundbreaking event; country delegates participation, subsequent planning meetings, and the selection criteria for participants.
On the side-lines- A crucial debriefing meeting followed, involving the Chairman of Kenya SUN CSA. The meeting discussed the relationship between CS-SUNN and the Kenya CSA, focusing on areas of collaboration and participation in the SUN Global Gathering. A position paper was planned to be presented at the SUNGG, advocating for improved funding and policy support for nutrition, strengthening civil society alliances in both anglophone and francophone countries.
Lessons from CS-SUNN’s transformative nutrition journey in Kenya:
Engaging legislators is a powerful tool for closing the knowledge gap on nutrition issues, increasing funding at the state levels, and ensuring the sustainability of county chapters.
The feedback mechanism for nutrition champions is a powerful tool for tracking progress. As the champions’ activities continue to be showcased, their role in nutrition coordination gains recognition.
The Members of the County Assembly have emerged as champions for recruiting nutritionists and deploying their expertise to hard-to-reach areas, further enhancing the fight against malnutrition.
CS-SUNN’s Vision for nutrition in Kenya:
These initiatives showcases CS-SUNN’s unwavering dedication to nutrition improvement in Kenya. The Nigeria SUN CSA efforts have not only empowered nutrition champions but also set the stage for improved funding, policy support, and sustainable change. CS-SUNN’s journey in Kenya is a testament to the power of effective advocacy and collaboration in addressing nutrition challenges. In the journey ahead, CS-SUNN’s commitment to transforming nutrition in Kenya remains unwavering. The Nigeria SUN CSA will continue to engage legislators, empower nutrition champions, and advocate for increased funding and policy support. As the roadmap for the future unfolds, CS-SUNN sees a vibrant and determined community of advocates and leaders, united by a common goal – transforming Kenya’s nutrition landscape.