Agricultural Commercialization of Staple Foods, Household Food Security and Nutrition Status of Children Aged 6-59 Months in Tharaka-Nithi County, Kenya
Gitari, Janice Gatakaa
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Globally, the number of undernourished people rose to above820 million in 2018. Kenya ranked 125th out of 157 countries in progress toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in 2017. Among the thirteen counties in the eastern and central regions of Kenya, Tharaka-Nithi County ranked second on stunting levels at 32%. Studies have shown large variations in food security implications caused by commercialization of agriculture hence need for further research to generate conclusive results. Thus, this study sought to assess the effect of agricultural commercialization of staples and household food security on nutrition status of children aged 6-59 months in Tharaka-Nithi County. The study adopted a cross-sectional analytical study design. Purposive sampling was used to select Mukothima ward. Proportionate to sizes sampling was used to select the number of households while systematic sampling was used to select the households with under-fives in each of the sub-locations to generate 374 children-caregiver pairs. Researcher administered structured questionnaires, key informant interview and focus group discussion guides were used to collect data. Data was entered into SPSS version 20.0 for analysis. Nutri-Survey and ENA for SMART were used to analyse 24-hour recall and anthropometric data respectively. Chi-square tests were run to test associations among categorical data variables. Qualitative data was organized into themes for analysis. The mean household size was 4.28 ± 1.404 with 85.2 %, of the households being headed by youthful men. 52.5% of the subjects relied on food crops’ sale as their main income source with65.3% being high level participants of agricultural commercialization. The mean Household Dietary Diversity Score was 5.32± 1.06. Based on Household Food Insecurity Access Score, 35.51% of the households were food secure. The mean number of meals eaten by the households in the day preceding the study was 2.94 ±0.926 with the main food source being purchases. Further, the mean energy and selected nutrient intakes of the under-fives in the study were adequate except for Zinc and Vitamin A. The prevalence of underweight based on WAZ-scores was 17.2 % while the GAM based on WHZ-scores was at 5.4 %. 33.6 % of the under-fives in the study were stunted. Significant positive associations were observed between: agricultural commercialization and income (Chi-square=23; P value =0.021); agricultural commercialization and occupation (Chi-square=23; P value =0.007); Income and HDDS (r=0.71; P value =0.035); agricultural commercialization and HDDS (P value =0.001); agricultural commercialization and nutrition status of the under-fives (P value =0.0041) and HDDS and nutrition status of the under-fives (r=0.78; P value =0.003). This study demonstrated that households which practice Agricultural Commercialization to a larger extent generated income which enabled them to purchase various foods in addition to their own produce thus achieving adequate nutrient intakes resulting to better nutrition outcomes. Thus, Tharaka-Nithi County Government should domesticate the Food Crops Act of 2013 which regulates food crop production activities. The County Government of Tharaka-Nithi and other partners should intensify adoption of sustainable nutrition interventions that will address the high levels of stunting among under-fives as revealed by the study results. A longitudinal study is recommended to further explore the relationships between agricultural commercialization and food security given their multi-dimensional nature.