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close this bookWhere Women Have No Doctor - A Health Guide for Women (Hesperian Foundation, 1997, 600 p.)
close this folderChapter 11: Eating for Good Health
close this folderWays to Work toward Better Nutrition
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentTrying a new idea
View the documentWorking toward a balance between people and land


There are many different ways to approach the problem of poor nutrition, because many different things help cause the problem. You and your community must consider the possible actions you might take and decide which are most likely to work.

Here are a few examples of ways to improve nutrition. These suggestions can help you grow more food or different kinds of food, or store it better so the food does not spoil. Some of these examples bring quick results. Others work over a longer time.

Some ways people can improve their nutrition

Family gardens

Community gardens

Rotation of crops

Every other planting season, plant a crop that returns strength to the soil - like beans, peas, lentils, alfalfa, peanuts, or some other plant with seeds in pods (legumes or pulses).


Try to grow a variety of foods. That way, even if one crop fails there will still be something to eat.


Contour ditches prevent the soil from washing away.

Food cooperatives

The community can buy large amounts of food at lower prices.

Fish breeding

Natural fertilizers

Better food storage

Trying a new idea

Not all the suggestions in this chapter are likely to work in your area. Perhaps some will work if they are changed for your particular community and the resources at hand. Often you can only know whether something will work or not by trying it - that is, by experiment.

When you try out a new idea, always start small. If you start small and the experiment fails, or something has to be done differently, you will not lose much. If it works, people will see that it works and can begin to use it in a bigger way.

Here is an example of experimenting with a new idea:

You learn that a certain kind of bean, such as soya, is an excellent body-building food. But will it grow in your area? And if it grows, will people eat it?

Start by planting a small patch - or 2 or 3 small patches under different kinds of conditions (for example, with different kinds of soil or using different amounts of water). If the beans do well, try cooking them in various ways, and see if people will eat them. If so, try planting more beans using the conditions in which they grew best.


You can also try out even more conditions (for example, adding fertilizer or using different kinds of seed) in more small patches to see if you can get an even better crop. To understand what helps and what does not, try to change only one condition at a time and keep the rest the same.

¨ Do not be discouraged if an experiment does not work. Perhaps you can try again with certain changes. You can learn as much from your failures as from your successes.

Here is an example of adding animal fertilizer (manure) to see if it helps beans grow. This person planted several small bean patches side-by-side, under the same conditions of water and sunlight, and using the same seed. Before planting, each patch of soil was mixed with a different amount of manure, something like this:


This experiment shows that a certain amount of manure helps, but that too much can harm the plants. This is only an example. Your experiments may give different results. Try for yourself!

Other ideas to experiment with

· To increase the amount of food a piece of land will produce, try planting different kinds of crops together. For example, plants that grow along the ground can be mixed with plants that grow tall. Fruit trees can be planted above both. Or plants that take a shorter time to grow can be mixed with those that take a longer time. Then the first crop can be harvested before the second crop gets too large.

· If you must plant cash crops (non-food crops that you sell), try planting food crops together with the cash crops. For example, plant nut or fruit trees to shade coffee. Or plant cassava with cotton.

· Try to find nutritious plants that grow well in local conditions, so that you will need less water and fertilizer for good results.

By planting breadfruit and cacao together, this family can earn some money and grow more food for themselves - with the same amount of land.

Working toward a balance between people and land

Most food comes from the land. Land that is used well can produce more food. But even the best used piece of land can only feed a certain number of people. And today, many of the people who farm do not have enough land to meet their needs or to stay healthy.

For this reason, some people argue that ‘the small family lives better’. For many poor families, however, having many children is an economic necessity. Because of the work they do to help the family, children of poor families often produce more than they cost by the time they are 10 or 12 years old. Having a lot of children also makes it more likely the parents will have someone to give the help and care they need in old age.

So lack of social and economic security creates the need for parents to have many children. Therefore, the answer to gaining a balance between people and land does not come from telling poor people to have smaller families. It comes from sharing the land more fairly, paying fair wages, and taking other steps to overcome poverty. Only then can people afford small families. Then we can hope to achieve a lasting balance between people and land.