On a hot Monday afternoon, about 15 men in Gurum community, Kano State, sit on colourful mats spread under two neem trees, engaging in an intense discussion. You’d be hard-pressed to believe they are discussing matters related to the running of the community, or maybe even politics. A closer look reveals a young man in their midst, holding up a flipchart, with illustrations of a mother holding her breast to the mouth of an infant.
The man at the centre is 28-year-old Umar Tanimu, a farmer and leader of a fathers’ support group in the community. The group was formed after Umar and other volunteers received training from UNICEF in 2017 on how men can promote improved child nutrition. This comes at a period when child malnutrition in Nigeria is at a critical stage, about 13 million children suffering from stunting.
Umar and many other men in Gurum have taken up the challenge to put an end to child malnutrition in their community. Umar facilitates this meeting once a month and educates fathers on proper nutrition for children, and the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.
Using a counseling card with graphic illustrations, Umar, who is expecting to be a father soon, explains the importance of breastfeeding and eating the right food. “Exclusive breastfeeding helps the child grow well and prevents malnutrition. It is also important to support your spouse to cook the right kind of meals for the older children – adding beans, vegetables and other necessary ingredients to their meals.”
There are two other fathers support groups like Umar’s in the community, where fathers are encouraged to adopt new behaviours to improve the nutrition of their children. The fathers learn how to provide the necessary support to their breastfeeding spouses and ensure that complementary meals for infants and young children contain at least one animal source food, fruit or vegetable, and staple foods which could be grain, root or tuber.
Twenty-two year old Sabiu, a father of two children and one of the men in the support group led by Umar, says: “I now have the knowledge to promote good nutrition for children. In fact, my wife now practices exclusive breastfeeding.”
Men and women have a shared responsibility to ensure children receive good nutrition. In a community like Gurum, where the majority of the men are farmers, they play an important role in ensuring that pregnant women have access to the right foods. After a child is born, men can also support their spouses as they begin a journey of exclusive breastfeeding and ensuring that as the babies grow beyond 6 months, they are fed properly with adequate quantity and quality complementary food, and continued breastfeeding.
Child nutrition is the backbone of a healthy start in life. Ensuring children are well-nourished is central to their survival, health, learning and well-being, which is also central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
“I believe every child has a right to healthy living and nutritious food, and I want these for my children,” says Sabiu.