When a child is stunted, it not only means they’re smaller than average, but also that they’re less likely to do well at school. Studies have shown that a lack of iodine in the diet, for example, is associated with a loss of 10-15 IQ points. And children who are stunted and malnourished when young, typically earn 20% less on average as adults.
It’s little surprise then that the government of Indonesia has identified the high rates of stunting among the nation’s children as one of the major barriers to growing the country’s economy in the 21st century. In its recent report ‘A Life Free from Hunger’, Save the Children reports that the USA government is giving Indonesia a 131.5 million dollar grant over the next five years through its Millennium Challenge Corporation to address the problem. This money will be targeted at children in the 0-2 age range, where healthy nutrition is absolutely crucial to later development.
Already in some areas where Indonesian children eat a limited range of foods or locally available produce has little nutritional value, families are being provided with multiple micronutrient powders (MMP) which can be added to meals. This is especially used as a method of improving nutrition in remote communities. Such powders have been shown to reduce anaemia in children by over 30% and iron deficiency by over 50% and children have been found to be far less prone to illness and disease or absences from school. Research conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Indonesia also found that families provided with two sachets of MMPs each day needed to spend 20% less on their food to obtain an adequately nutritious diet.
Other solutions to child stunting are also being put into effect. The not-for-profit agency Mercy Corps is working to improve diets in the slums of Jakarta, where malnutrition is a huge problem. The homes of many slum residents are too small for people to have proper kitchens or cooking facilities and families often purchase street food which is high in fat and sugar, but low in protein and nutrients. As a result, many children suffer from acute malnutrition, as well as anaemia and stunting.
Mercy Corps therefore launched a ‘Kedai Balitaku’ scheme in 2009, which translates as ‘My Child’s Café’. Having devised nutritious and low-cost foods which appeal to poor families in Jakarta, the programme has set up street vendor carts which go out and sell these nutritious foods. The vendors are also trained in areas such as hygiene, bookkeeping, marketing and customer service. As well as providing their communities with healthy meals, the food carts also have to be profitable – on average, sellers report much higher takings and being able to work shorter days. With the initial carts catering to around 5,000 customers each day and having proved such a success, Mercy Corps now hopes to scale up the scheme so there are over 30 cooking centres and nearly 250 vendors, who would serve around half a million Indonesian children. This will be one way to help ensure children in Jakarta’s slums are being provided with the nourishment they need.