Determining the nutritional status of children from agri-business families in the Eastern Cape, South Africa
Since the dawn of the new democratic South Africa in 1994, the subject of food, and food security, thereof, has received serious attention, especially among previously disadvantaged groups. Farming communities from these previously disadvantaged groups have continuously received support from the government and other roleplaying organisations in agricultural development in order to strengthen their capacity to produce food for their communities and for the nation at large. However, very little or virtually nothing is known of the state of nutrition (in)security or nutritional status of many of these farming communities, particularly those that are involved in agri-business ventures. Instead, these communities are presumed nutrition secure or having elevated nutritional status by virtue of being food producers. In view of the information gap outlined above, the purpose of this study was to investigate the current state of nutrition security / nutritional status among children from agri-business families. Accordingly, the objectives of this study were to, namely; establish baseline data for nutrition security / nutritional status of children from agri-business families, establish the extent to which children from agri-business families are nutrition secure, using a multiple of scientifically proven research methods of measuring nutrition security, identify and understand short-comings to achieving nutrition security or good nutritional status among children from agri-business families, and draw recommendations based on the findings of the study. This study’s research population was agri-business families who operated and resided in Umzimvubu and Ntabankulu Local Municipalities of Alfred Nzo District Municipality in the Eastern Cape Province. Precisely, the target group was previously disadvantaged agribusiness owners / managers whose individual or collective annual turnover was between R150 000 and R4 000 000. Such agri-businesses are statutorily classified as very small or small or medium agricultural enterprises. After the objective and scientific selection process, a purposeful research sample of 124 agri-businesses that were operated by 263 agri-business owners / managers was achieved. The agri-business owners / managers were from 263 households. Each of the 263 agri-business households were represented by a caregiver, to whom questions that relate to nutritional knowledge, attitudes and feeding and general care of children were directed. A total of 327 children aged 5-14 years from the agri-business households participated in this study. Collection of data from the abovementioned respondents was carried out in a theoretical, methodological and analytical manner. This involved use of mixed research methods that included; a socio-economic questionnaire, and other questionnaires on nutritional knowledge and attitudes, nutritional practices, anthropometric measurements, and 24h dietary recall method, and a food frequency questionnaire. The outcomes of parametric and non-parametric statistical analyses, and content analysis, showed that the caregivers had fairly good nutritional knowledge on a wide range of issues. However, their children enjoyed rather modest nutritional practices that were often characterised with intake of low quantities of foods, deprivation of breakfast and some meals, high consumption of carbohydrates-rich foods, and low consumption of fruits and vegetables. Food variety and dietary diversity scores which are indicative of nutritional status were low and conservatively high, respectively. The above scores and feeding patterns in general, influenced the intake of 24 nutrients under investigation. When compared with their dietary reference intake (DRI) values, the intake of these nutrients varied from low to high, with nutrients such as iodine and dietary fibre, and carbohydrates and vitamin A, reported at low and high intake levels, respectively. Most of the children had good nutritional status, in as far as their anthropometric dimensions are concerned. However, the creeping problem of overweight / obesity was concerning, while stunting and wasting were at low levels. The causes of nutrition insecurity / low nutritional status among the children from agribusiness families were identified. Among these causes, the key ones which were hypothesised and subsequently tested were; low farm and non-farm income, low expenditure on food, and low educational status of caregivers. Based on the above findings, conclusions were drawn, the most important being that quantities and varieties of food items produced or financially accessed by agri-business families were not sufficient to yield high food variety scores and unequivocally high dietary diversity scores which would be indicative of high nutrition security / nutritional status for their children. A similar conclusion held true with respect to the low intake of some nutrients against their dietary reference intake. Also drawn from this study’s findings were recommendations, the emphasis being on nutrition education, and an integrated and systematic approach to addressing food and nutrition insecurity among agri-business families. This nutrition-sensitive food security study which was targeted at families of owners / managers of very small, small and medium agricultural enterprises is the first of its kind to be conducted in South Africa. To this end, this study brought ground breaking contributions, thereby adding value to the general paucity of literature of the concept of food and nutrition security. It also made similar contributions in the policy and professional spheres of this contemporary concept.