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Tackling malnutrition across borders

Nutrition Professor Cecilia Rocha brings food sustainability project to Vietnam
By: Carrie Duncan
April 06, 2017
Cecilia Rocha

Photo: Cecilia Rocha is helping women in Vietnam by creating work for farmers and producing locally manufactured, ready-to-use therapeutic foods. Photo: Clifton Li.

To simultaneously address the pressing issues of malnutrition and unemployment in Northern Vietnam, Cecilia Rocha from Ryerson’s School of Nutrition is aiming to apply the learnings from her previous project, Building Capacity in Food Security in Brazil, to her latest one to improve the lives of women and children around the world.

The Brazil-based project, which started in 2004, demonstrated the importance of community involvement in building sustainable food security solutions by promoting partnerships between the local universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and members of the public to address food insecurity. It also examined gender equity issues, since women are not only more likely to suffer from malnutrition but are also more likely to be in professional roles that support food security such as nutritionists, health professionals or social workers. This work drew the attention of Vietnam's National Institute of Nutrition (NIN). Officials from the institute reached out to Rocha to put together a proposal for a similar project in Vietnam.

Rocha’s new project, Scaling up small-scale food processing: A strategy to promote food security among women subsistence farmers in rural Vietnam, is supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and Vietnam's NIN. Adopting a similar model to the Brazil project, the current project supports Northern Vietnamese communities in two ways. It provides a source of income to local women farmers who are providing raw ingredients for the creation of fortified complementary foods, while also offering these nutritious foods in a shelf-stable, affordable way, to address food insecurity and malnutrition among women and children.

According to Rocha, the project will provide food for 15,000 of the poorest children in Northern Vietnam. Women will be given training and information on the subject of therapeutic foods, including vegetable sachets for soups, high-energy bars, and instant cereals. These products will be developed and produced by local food processing plants. The facilities are still being built — when they are completed, the aim is to provide employment to local women through food training.

“The foods that are processed will be available through the local clinics, and also in stores,” said Rocha, director of the Centre for Food Security.

During this time, Rocha will be studying the impacts that local food production and availability has on food security among the women farmers and children in the area. Furthermore, she will be examining if the project supports the local economy and creates a viable supply chain for the farmers.

The end goal is to build capacity that exceeds the duration of the project in order to support a sustainable model for food security in Vietnam.

*This story first appeared in the 26th issue of Innovation, the newsletter from the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation.