GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida scientist hopes his new research in Ethiopia answers key questions about malnutrition and ultimately leads to solutions that save millions of lives by improving programs that give chickens to families with children or that aim to improve backyard or scavenging poultry production.
About 155 million children worldwide are “stunted,” or significantly shorter than the average height for their age, University of Florida experts estimate. About 25 percent of children under age 5 worldwide – and about 38 percent in Ethiopia — fall into this category, said Arie Havelaar, a professor of food safety and zoonoses at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences department of animal sciences.
Havelaar is leading a research project in which experts from UF/IFAS hope to reduce rates of malnutrition among young children in Ethiopia by improving the way chickens are kept among families who receive or raise them.
March is Global Children’s Nutrition Month, a time to emphasize efforts by UF/IFAS faculty, who are working with scientists campus-wide and across the globe to help improve the nutrition of children in Ethiopia and other nations with malnourished children.
Among those efforts is Havelaar’s project, part of an already announced $8.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He and Sarah McKune, a UF assistant professor of environmental and global health and a faculty member with the UF Center for African American Studies, will study how to provide chickens to families on small farms in Ethiopia, while also improving hygiene in the home environment. Havelaar and McKune are working with Haramaya University in Ethiopia, Ohio State University, and Washington University in St. Louis.
“Our findings will be generalizable to anyone who has freely scavenging chickens,” said Havelaar, who’s also affiliated with the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and the UF Institute for Sustainable Food Systems. “Children will have the chance to eat more and eggs, which adds much-needed protein and bioavailable nutrients to their diets. We want to keep the chicken in coops, to reduce exposure of children to infectious bacteria in the chicken droppings, and we need to know how sustainable that is for the families.”
“We’ll be able to help the families produce their own eggs and be sure the eggs are fed to the young children,” Havelaar said.
Though still in the early stages of their research, Havelaar, McKune, and their colleagues will combine agricultural and health research. For example, while playing in backyards where chickens roam freely, some children unintentionally consume chicken droppings, which contain bacteria that can colonize children’s guts, Havelaar said. That causes inflammation, which leads to a loss of ability of the gut to absorb nutrients, which leads to stunting, he said.
“How can families produce their own eggs without detrimental effects of the chickens on the children?” Havelaar said. That’s what we hope to determine.
In addition to the chicken and egg project, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems at UF/IFAS is working on more than 30 projects in eight countries with funding from USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said Adegbola Adesogan, a UF/IFAS professor of animal sciences and director of the lab. Those nations are Cambodia, Nepal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. Havelaar and Mckune lead the food safety and human nutrition and health focal areas for the lab.
“Our mandate is to help improve livestock production with the end goal of improving human nutrition, health, incomes and livelihoods,” Adesogan said. “We’re using livestock to achieve those goals because of the important bioavailable nutrients in animal-source foods, which are critical for growth and cognitive development, particularly in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.”
As part of their livestock research in the eight countries, UF/IFAS faculty and other scientists are trying to increase animal productivity, marketing and animal source food consumption through improved feeding, disease management, food safety, nutritional education and other strategies.
“For example, the feed research will develop the knowledge, skills, tools and products needed to improve quality livestock feed production and delivery, which is one of the greatest constraints to animal-source food consumption in developing countries” Adesogan said.
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