UBALE

United in Building and Advancing Life Expectations

The Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University is proud to be working with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and other partners in Malawi on the UBALE project, a five-year development food assistance program funded by USAID’s Office of Food for Peace with additional research funding under Feed the Future.

 

The United in Building and Advancing Life Expectations program – or UBALE, which means partnership in Chichewa –  is a key element of USAID’s comprehensive development cooperation strategy in Malawi.  The project is implemented with local NGOs through existing government structures in three food-insecure, chronically malnourished and disaster-prone districts of Southern Malawi: Chikwawa, Nsanje, and rural Blantyre.  UBALE covers all 284 communities in these districts, totaling about 248,000 households with children under 2, and delivers an integrated set of agriculture and nutrition interventions.

 

The Friedman School’s work with UBALE began in 2015-16, and is scheduled to run through 2019.  We contribute to UBALE’s aims through research to help guide improvements in two domains:  delivery of program interventions and control of aflatoxin contamination.

 

Improving program delivery

Many programs like UBALE are typically delivered through a cascade model, in which the central management and leadership of Catholic Relief Services or other large agency serves to coordinate the fieldwork of several specialized NGOs, which in turn work through numerous local government offices and village-level volunteers to reach remote households and individuals throughout a targeted region.  This model of program delivery allows a single large project to involve many more diverse organizations and dispersed individuals than would be possible if all activities were delivered by a single organization.  The corresponding challenge is to understand how the cascade works in practice, and what conditions lead to greater success  maintaining curriculum fidelity and achieving outcomes.

 

In the first year (2015-16) of Tufts research on UBALE program delivery we conducted formative, qualitative research on the constraints facing front-line staff and village volunteers to completing the recruitment and training required to start up the project.  Staff and volunteers bring different types of experience to their work on the project, leading to different kinds of knowledge and capabilities.

 

The second year (2016-17) of Tufts-UBALE research on program delivery builds on our first-year results, to quantify the nature of differences among workers in their nutrition knowledge as well as the communication and facilitation skills needed to help villagers take advantage of new opportunities in agriculture, nutrition and health. The proposed study aims to assess the extent of program-related and objective (factual) nutrition, health and aflatoxin knowledge and practices held by mothers in households of children under two as well as that of all the actors involved in transmitting nutrition information at each level of program implementation.

 

Study objectives include:

  1. To understand the extent of nutrition and aflatoxin knowledge and practices;
  2. To assess the extent of knowledge held by households and implementers;
  3. To test nutrition program message fidelity along the implementation delivery chain and across implementing organizations, and;
  4. To test whether changes in nutrition knowledge influence behaviors and practices related to household food consumption and post-harvest maize and groundnut practices.

 

Improving aflatoxin control, sorting and storage

Nutrition and health outcomes in Malawi are heavily affected by mold on cereal grains (especially maize) and leguminous grains (especially groundnuts).  These fungi release mycotoxins (especially aflatoxins), which are known carcinogens and widely believed to cause stunting and malnutrition.  Mold on foods is not always visible, and the resulting toxins cannot be seen or tasted.  The toxins are typically not destroyed by processing or cooking.  UBALE and many other development actors are actively engaged in delivering new approaches to aflatoxin control, through both in-field agricultural measures and post-harvest food system improvements.

 

In the first year (2015-16) of Tufts research with UBALE, our aflatoxin control research focused on post-harvest sorting decisions to determine how households choose what maize and groundnuts to sell, buy, or devote to each distinct type of food use.  This work built on UBALE’s partnership with ICRISAT to address the in-field mechanisms and harvest practices that can limit mold growth in the first place.

 

The second year (2016-17) of research extends our initial findings to investigate storage choices, particularly among households for which  hermetic PICS bags capable of limiting mold growth from month to month have become available.

 

The guiding research question of this study is: how does knowledge of the effectiveness of PICS bags affect storage behavior. This work aims to describe knowledge and practices of individual farmers regarding their household’s food supply; and focuses on storage behavior one year after the PICS bags initiative was implemented by CRS.

 

 

Team bios

William A. Masters is the project’s Principal Investigator at Tufts.  Details of his other projects are on his personal website and teaching blog.

Gloria Guevara Alvarez, Program Coordinator, provides direct oversight for the research and associated logistics.  She is a doctoral student at Friedman School, focusing on sustainable agriculture, small holders, farm-to-fork continuum, food systems and regional distribution systems, especially in Africa and Latin America, as described on her personal blog.

 

 

Graduate researchers (2016-17)

Kate Schneider conducted fieldwork on program delivery. She is a doctoral student at Friedman School, focusing on food policy, household economics and nutrition in developing countries.

Gloria Guevara Alvarez conducted fieldwork on storage and willingness to pay, and is planning dissertation research in Malawi and Mexico.

 

Graduate researchers (2015-16)

Rebecca Frank conducted the fieldwork on program delivery, while a graduate student in the Public Health Program at Tufts Medical School, as well as the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition Program at the Friedman School. Her concentration at Friedman was in humanitarian assistance, and her public health interests include psychosocial issues, the double burden of malnutrition and obesity, and infectious diseases.

Caroline Nathan conducted the fieldwork on aflatoxin control and how potentially contaminated grains are used.  She was a masters student at the Friedman School, focusing on the linkages between agriculture and nutrition in low- and middle-income countries.