Escalating prices and food shortages have had a severe effect on many Bolivian families, leading to violent protests in early 2011. As families struggle to feed their children, they have ceased to farm their traditional crops, increasing their dependence on less costly foreign imports. In the country as a whole, 27 per cent of children under the age of 13 months suffer from severe malnutrition. Bolivian President Evo Morales today announced measures totalling £3.1 billion to encourage production and food self-sufficiency in the country for the long-term.
Oruro, a region of Bolivia, has one of the highest levels of deprivation and malnutrition in the country, where hundreds of children are born chronically and severely malnourished. Key reasons for undernourishment amongst children in the city include the high poverty rate amongst families and rising food prices. In addition, there is a lack of education amongst parents about nutrition and the value of eating a balanced diet including fruit and vegetables. In many cases, children simply eat whatever is at hand.
Since 2004, the SOS Social Centre in the suburbs of Oruro has successfully implemented a programme of nutritional education for the local community. The programme provides information and guidance for families on the importance of nutrition. In addition, it offers teaching on how to prepare inexpensive nutritious foods using locally available, affordable products. Workshops on cooking and the preparation of inexpensive nutritious meals operate on a regular basis. Long-term courses are also available in household vegetable production, and the centre even runs lessons in how to construct greenhouses so that families can become more self-sufficient. These measures are particularly valuable in the current climate of food insecurity, ensuring a consistent food supply to families.
The centre monitors children throughout the programme to ensure that they are benefiting from the nutritional guidance. "Depending on their health conditions, children receive either monthly or weekly check ups until they have recovered from malnutrition," explains a paediatrician from the centre. "Mothers are also included in the process. They accompany their children to the checkups and receive personal advice with regard to basic food supplies."
The benefits of a nutritious diet are immediately clear amongst children. As a nutritional expert working for SOS explains “The change is reflected on their physical appearance: you can see a change in the colour of their hair, the brightness of their skin and eyes." The benefits of an improved diet also extend far beyond a healthier body. “Children who receive better nourishment are children with better opportunities in life," explains the expert "Their concentration, interest in educational activities and the interaction with their classmates, parents and teachers are clearly enhanced by a balanced diet.”
So far, the programme has supported over 450 families and 1000 children in the local community to improve their diets and their long-term health. Read more about our work in Bolivia.