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Pushing for community ownership of projects regarding nutrition and strengthening established systems of implementation were emphasized at the event organized to celebrate USAID’s multi-sector nutrition activity: ‘Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities’ (ENGINE).

ENGINE provided nutrition services for more than 5.6 million children under five years of age and reduced chronic  child malnutrition in targeted areas by 16 percent. The activity was commissioned in 2011 and lasted until 2016.

“Whatever we have done in nutrition, it can only make a difference when we make sure that it is sustainable and owned by the communities and local administration. Sustainability requires moving from owning the project as it is by the implementing partner Save the Children, to give specific activities and action to the local government for them to implement it as part of the ownership process. It can only be sustainable when it builds on an existing system instead of building another parallel system,” stated Ephrem Tekle, Director, Maternal and Child Health Directorate, Federal Ministry of Health, speaking on the ENGINE activities.

Discussing the social and economical challenges of the issue, studies underline that damage caused by malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of a life, from the start of a women’s pregnancy to the child’s second birth day, is usually irreversible in terms of its negative impact on the child’s health, cognitive development, physical growth, and school and work performance later in life.

Current data shows that 27 percent of women in Ethiopia are thin or malnourished and 40.1 percent of children are suffering from stunting. The ENGINE activity worked to address the underlining cause of stunting including maternal and child feeding practices, poor access to diversified foods, limited access to quality nutrition services, and poor household sanitation and hygiene through sustainable coordinated interventions, enabling them to lead healthier and more productive lives.

USAID Mission Director Leslie Reed stated that the ENGIN program and the Feed the Future initiative in Ethiopia demonstrated the importance of having coordination at the national level but more importantly down at the lower level, regional and zonal level. She further said that food security and nutrition are interwoven.

“It’s not about growing food, but also about growing the right food at the right amount. Some people that are growing food were not consuming the little produce they have and feeding it to their children. They were instead selling the produce to get an income for school fees,” Reed said. To solve this challenge for the households, a credit and loaning system was established to help the households get the school fees so they can send their kids to school.

Through the implementation of ENGINE in the Amhara, Oromia, SNNP and Tigray regions from 2011 to 2016, the number of children accessing an adequately diverse diet increased from 12.2 to 29.1 percent, the number of women initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth rose from 38.5 to 67.9 percent, and the number of pregnant women accessing iron foliate supplements increased from 29.6 to 65.9 percent.

To achieve these results, the activity trained more than 107,000 people on nutrition conscious farming and livestock rearing and more than 26,000 people on child health and nutrition. Additionally, more than 15,000 vulnerable households were reached with homestead gardening rearing of small livestock and village savings activities that improved their household economic and nutrition status.