Tackling  the problem  of stunted  growth

Tackling the problem of stunted growth

ROMA-LESOTHO’S babies must be celebrating!
Their food, which is ready for the market is called “khuisa” – a Sesotho word for weaning.
The baby food has been four years in the making by Kebitsamang Mothibe and his team at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

“It is meant to address the problem of high malnutrition rate among children and babies in Lesotho,” Mothibe says.
As a bonus, khuisa will create a huge market for farmers to sell their crops.
The formula is not only nutritious; it is finger-licking tasty for the young ones.
It is made from cereals, beans and sunflower seeds.

The scientists’ idea goes beyond just providing energy to the children.
It also provides complete protein to ensure the children grow at par with their age.
Plus the food is meant to be low-cost while creating markets for local farmers.
When children’s growth rate is lower than normal, the problem is called stunting.

Mothibe and his friends in the NUL Department of Nutrition have been stunned by the reports that Lesotho’s stunting rate among children is at around 33 percent, which is amazingly high.
He and his fellow lecturer, Teboho Lekatsa, gathered the following students: Likeleli Kolobe, Mpho Letsie, Makhala Manyo, Lefa Masupha and Matsomoli Mokhele, over the years and got down to work.
They would be holed up in the lab for nearly four years.

Their focus is on children in their first 1 000 days which is a critical period where children’s needs for proper nutrition is high.
Unlike adults, children need lots of nutrients at early stage to maintain rapid developments in their bodies.

Just when you thought they were done, the scientists were ready to refine their work with an infusion of more money from the NUL Research Fund popularly known as RCC—just to ensure they got it right.
They carried laboratory tests, fine-tuned the formulae and ensured great taste.
Lesotho is not under a famine.

But a combination of poor access to food due to frequent droughts and general lack of awareness by mothers on the merits of proper nutrition could have contributed to the problem of stunting.
In the face of all these, the NUL of today is no longer a bystander, good at diagnosing problems, poor at implementing solutions.

Gone are the days of lengthy workshops (talk-shops), awareness campaigns and study tours (per diem trips) on nutrition.
Action, action, action, has become the rallying cry in the Roma Valley.

So Mothibe and friends are ready to introduce a commercial solution to a two-horned problem.
One solution would be to feed the children more meat and more milk.
Meat and milk have complete protein.
But those things do not come cheap.

Not to say much about the general benefits of plant based food with high fibre.
That is not to say animal products should be abandoned — balance is the key.
But many mothers generally provide lesheleshele (soft porridge) or motoho (sour soft porridge) often made from pure sorghum.

While these are high in carbohydrates for energy, they still have proteins for children’s growth.
“But their proteins are incomplete, leading to deficiency in children,” Mothibe says.
A bit of science is enough for you to know that proteins are made of amino acids.
So the sorghum will have some forms of amino acids but be lacking in other forms.

On the other hand, legumes such as beans will also have some amino acids and not others.
“When you combine the two, they complement each other such that you have a complete protein,” Mothibe says.
Note, again, that the legumes on their own, would still be inadequate.

The bonus for you in this combination is that unlike in the case of milk and meat, you have a meal for your child, which is both nutritious and low-cost.
“Our product is meant to be as low cost, therefore as accessible, as possible,” Mothibe says.
“It should be affordable to all.”

But sunflower seeds are also added to the mix.
The seeds’ presence becomes a two-edged sword.
On one hand, they provide oils in which some of the nutrients are only soluble, making the nutrients more available for absorption into the body.
On the other hand, the seeds are also rich in important proteins, adding more to essential proteins that are already enriching the food.

The product is going to do a lot to provide enough markets for farmers who produce the seeds, cereals and legumes.
“Take beans for instance,” Mothibe argues, “not many people eat beans every day. But if you put the beans in this product, you create a food that children all over the country will be enjoying almost daily.”
In the process, you create a sure market for the farmers whilst solving a countrywide problem of stunting among children.

Now, the team is ready for the hard part — producing this product at a commercial scale.
“We are going to start at an incubation level, making and selling the product at small scale. We are just waiting for the machinery,” Mothibe says.

Own Correspondent

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