Soya beans to stave off malnutrition?
KABUL, 28 August 2008 (IRIN) - Fatema takes her
four-year-old daughter, Nafeesa, to a free soya-milk
distribution centre in Herat city, western
Afghanistan, three times a week in a bid to protect
her against malnutrition.
Three months ago medical experts told Fatema about
protein deficiency in Nafeesa's body and warned that
unless the child was well fed she would be
"I told doctors about our poverty and that we could
not provide good food and fruits for my daughter,"
said Fatema whose husband, Najibullah, earns a modest
income from his bicycle repair shop.
"Doctors told me about this soya-milk distribution
centre for pregnant women and children," she said.
The free soya-milk distribution centre is jointly
run by the department of women's affairs and a
non-governmental organisation, and is funded by a
"My daughter's health has improved since I brought
her to this centre and she has stopped complaining
about bone pain," Fatema told IRIN.
High infant mortality
Afghanistan has an infant mortality ratio of 165
deaths per 1,000 live births. One in four children
dies before reaching the age of five, mostly due to
acute malnutrition and preventable diseases, the UN
Children's Fund, UNICEF, reported.
"Among under-five children, 7 percent suffer from
acute malnutrition and 54 percent are chronically
malnourished. The nutrition figures could be higher in
the areas affected by conflict and drought, where
access is denied and humanitarian services are
difficult to deliver," says
UNICEF's Humanitarian Action Report 2008.
Soya bean products (milk, flour and beans) are also
highly recommended by medical experts for pregnant and
lactating women who do not have access to adequate
food and nutrition.
Afghanistan is only second to Sierra Leone in terms
of high maternal mortality rates, with at least 1,600
deaths per 100,000 live births, according to UNICEF.
Most pregnant and lactating women die due to lack
of access to adequate food and
The soya-bean is a species of legume and considered
by nutritionists to be a rich source of amino acids
and protein essential for the human body.
Afghanistan's climate and soil are suitable for the
cultivation of soya beans, particularly in the south,
east and southwest which have hot summers.
A USA-based nutrition expert, Steven Kwoon,
introduced soya beans to Afghan farmers for the first
time in 2003 through his small organisation -
Nutrition & Education International (NEI) - to help
tackle protein deficiency and malnutrition among
children and women.
The NEI distributed two tonnes of genetically
modified soya seed in 2005 which produced 10 tonnes of
soya beans, and over the years the number of farmers
has risen to over 4,000 and production has soared to
2,000 tonnes in 2007, the NEI said.
"If Afghanistan produces 300,000 tonnes of soya
beans annually it will be able to meet the protein
requirements of 30 million people and will be able to
eradicate malnutrition," Kwoon told IRIN on 28 August.
One third of the 60 tonnes of soya seed which the
NEI had imported from the USA for distribution to
Afghan farmers could not be used as seed because the
consignments had been held for too long in the hot
weather at customs inside Afghanistan, Kwoon said.
"We have only distributed 20 tonnes of seed this
year and as a result production levels will be lower
than 2007," said Kwoon adding that the country would
still produce about 1,000 tonnes of soya beans.
The NEI said it was working with the Ministry of
Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock to end the
country's reliance on soya seed imports by
establishing a domestic seed production capacity.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.
[This report does not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations]