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close this bookCulture, Environment, and Food to Prevent Vitamin A Deficiency (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1997, 208 pages)
close this folderPart IV. Understanding Vitamin A deficieny in the community
close this folder9. The contexts of culture, environment, and food
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentOverall performance of the protocol
View the documentKeys to finding local community food sources to prevent Vitamin A deficiency: What foods are available and how much vitamin a do they contain?
View the documentKeys to understanding consumption patterns of vulnerable groups
View the documentKeys to beliefs and perceptions about food
View the documentKeys to cultural, ecological and socioeconomic factors that constrain consumption of Vitamin A-rich food and prevention of deficiency
View the documentKeys to explanations and understandings of Vitamin A deficiency symptoms
View the documentLooking to the next steps: From ethnography to intervention design

Keys to cultural, ecological and socioeconomic factors that constrain consumption of Vitamin A-rich food and prevention of deficiency

The manual directs investigators to obtain data on microlevel (local) factors that affect food availability, health, and the potentials for family food selection. Some of this information is found in reports and interviews with persons in regional government agencies and is included in the background material in the section on the setting of the food system.

Information is also obtained In key-informant interviews, market surveys, food system data tables, and food frequency data.

Two key areas of local-level information included in the manual are land availability and local markets. If families have limited land resources to grow or harvest their own food and have limited income, the data on local food prices from the market survey are critical for determining accessibility of vitamin A-rich food. This issue was noted in investigators' reports from all the study sites. Often it is not possible for families to purchase animal food and vitamin-rich seasonal plant food because of their costs.

The accessibility and use of fat and animal foods are closely related problems. If fat and zinc are limited, and there is evidence of protein-energy malnutrition in the population, these factors may be more critical to the development of vitamin A deficiency than the amount of carotene or retinol in the food supply. For example, the shortage of fat and protein in the Aetas' food system was identified by the investigators as a significant feature.

Market accessibility for the sale of home-produced food is another factor that requires attention in the ethnography. Home-produced animal food (especially eggs and milk) and seasonal fruits and vegetables may be sold rather than fed to family members. Decision-making within the family with respect to allocation of home-produced food, as well as food purchasing, is a subject of inquiry in these studies because they have important implications for intervention planning. The study in Filingué documented the role of the male household head in structuring the accessibility of vitamin A-containing foods to vulnerable household members.

Elders in the community often know the recent history of food sources of vitamin A, including where plants and animals can be grown or found, how these were preserved and prepared, and any health properties they may cause. With increasing wages, families often choose food that is most easily obtained, while wild food sources or those requiring greater effort to harvest or prepare may be discontinued. The rise of industrial agriculture in an area is another force that encroaches on home food-harvesting resources. In this circumstance as well, the elders will know what kind of food was previously successful in the environment and where the nearest places are that provide the food resources. The Aetas have been relocated several times during the memory of the community elders, and food resources in the other areas were still remembered and occasionally brought to the village.

The nature of seasonal patterns is, of course, critical information for assessing the availability of vitamin A-containing foods. In all the study sites, seasonality strongly affected the picture. These effects may be seen in relation to home production, market availability, and purchasing power. In Filingué a poor millet harvest will trigger a critical decline in purchasing power for vitamin A-rich sauce ingredients, thus constricting the household's ability to purchase vitamin A-containing foods at a time when home production also falls.

The ethnographic instructions also direct investigators to examine whether there are any historical or cultural reasons for rejecting foods containing vitamin A. In Doumen village, the use of carrots declined because of their association with a rejected social policy, as well as their negative features as a cash crop. The association of some foods with poverty or their designation as starvation foods, may also affect consumption, as appears to be the case for carristel fruit by the Aetas and certain leafy greens in Sheriguda, village.