Citizen Journalism As A Tool For Advancing Nutrition Awareness At Grassroots

ZIMBABWE is currently making positive strides towards addressing the malnutrition burden at the back of rigorous and extensive nutrition interventions by government, civil society and funding partners. Healthy eating and nutrition has also been identified as a platform through which countries can attain Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

By Michael Gwarisa recently in Headlands, Mazowe

According to the Zimbabwe 2018 Nutrition Survey report launched by the Food and Nutrition Council, the national rate of child stunting, a manifestation of chronic malnutrition, is 26.2 per cent in Zimbabwe, which means nearly one in every three children are chronically malnourished. Information plays a key role in the fight against all forms of malnutrition and without knowledge, people perish.

Addressing the burden of malnutrition requires an “All hands on Deck” approach where every sector and part of society plays a part in the fight against all forms of malnutrition. The media play a pivotal role in the information dissemination process and could be an enabler to ensuring SGD two which advocates for zero hunger and goal three, which talks of good health and well-being.

Through proper knowledge and information dissemination, communities stand a chance to make informed decisions about their nutrition and diet selections. Wasting, stunting, overweight among others are forms of malnutrition Zimbabwe is currently battling especially in rural areas.

However, access to traditional forms of media for example print media (Newspapers, magazines, etc) and electronic media(Television, Radioa) at times may be a challenge to communities due to a plethora of reasons which range from lack of disposable income and money to by newspapers, poor signal reception in certain areas due to an unfavorable geography amongst a host of other reasons.

Technology has however provided communities with an opportunity. The process of mass communicating is no longer preserve of traditional media alone. Everyone can now mass communicate as long they have access to gadgets which allow them to do. The use of mobile phones in Zimbabwe has grown over the years. According to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), by 2017, Zimbabwe’s mobile penetration (number of people using/owing cell phones) had hit 95 percent benchmark.

Rural Enterprise Trust of Zimbabwe (RETZ) an affiliate of the Zimbabwe Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (ZCSOSUNA) have identified this opportunity and embarked on a mission to train young adolescents and young farmers in rural communities to become citizen journalists to raise awareness on nutrition and malnutrition at grassroots level.

RETZ Consultant and Media Studies lecturer, Dr Jasper Maposa said Social Media if used responsibly could catapult Zimbabwe to greater heights and by engaging young nutrition advocates as Citizen Journalists, the nutrition message could reach communities faster than expected.

Citizens if trained to use social media platforms responsibly could become good citizen Journalists. Unlike Journalist in tradition media, citizen journalists use gadgets at their disposal to diseminate information.

“Young people especially young adolescents are very active on social media and know how to navigate and use these gadgets better. By tapping into this generation, we could breed a highly informed and nutrition sensitive society. Training these young ones to be nutrition citizen Journalists will actually go a long way in raising awareness as well as informing policy makers on what needs to be done to address the nutrition challenges bedeviling our communities,” said Dr Maposa.

He added that citizen journalist had an advantage of informing the world real time hence the need for them to be responsible and precise in their reportage.

“Fact checking is always very good. You should know that the goal is not to cause panic and unnecessary alarm but to raise awareness and promote nutrition literacy. Young citizen nutrition journalists can work closely with local farmers to promote their products and also disseminate the nutrition benefits of locally produced goods.”

RETZ has already commenced recruiting nutrition champions in schools in Mashonaland Central in a bid to penetrate communities with the aim of raising awareness around nutrition issues. Various young farmers in Mazowe and other districts in the Mashonaland Central province have been engaged so as to create synergies between the young nutrition citizen Journalists and young farmers.

Mr Anderson Chibatauta, a young farmer and agro-consultant in Mash Central said there is need for media be it tradition or new media to work together in raising awareness on nutrition issues.

“[pullquote]You cannot talk of health without talking of nutrition. It is us the farmers who produce the foods that are consumed around the country. It is therefore critical for young people including young farmers to be trained on how to use new media to interact with the markets as well as educate the market on then nutritional benefits.[/pullquote]

“We need to create synergies with both traditional media and even the young citizen Journalists so as to spread the message of nutrition,” said Mr Chibatauta.

Meanwhile, RETZ programmes manager Cuthbert Mukora said achieving the UN Global Goals precisely goal two and goal three requires collective action and these young citizen Journalists will help amplify the voice of communities and help address the nutrition gaps.

“Just like the UN says, we should leave no one behind. In this case, we are broadening the participation of children through expanding our network of food and nutrition citizen journalists from the previous 36 junior councilors and young people we have trained in Bindura, to an excess of 40 who we have trained in Mazowe District.

“Coupled with this, we have taken a step further to also train more than 60 teachers who are custodians of children and who will guide our child citizen journalists to write and tell stories on food and nutrition as well as health and wellness in their respective communities. We have also capacitated members of the Food and Nutrition Security Committees at district levels in Mazowe and Bindura, on issues of citizen journalism, fact checking and digital security so that they are also able to verify information and data from our citizen journalists on real time before we publish the stories through our e-digital nutrition information platform,” said Mr Mukora.

He added the trainings were just but work in progress and resources permitting, they would go beyond Mashonaland Central to cover the whole of Zimbabwe.

“We are happy that the Food and Nutrition Security multi-sectorial committee in Mazowe District welcomes our initiative which will help to address the paradox that exist in the district.

“While Mazowe is the largest producer of cereal crops in Zimbabwe, the Annual Nutrition Reports from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessmemt Committee (Zimvac) stated that Mazowe is worst affected of malnutrition. Through this initiative, we are therefore engaging and capacitating the most affected namely children, and we then work tirelessly to amplify their voices so that the nation consider to invest and allocate more resources towards nutrition especially in the yearly national fiscal budgets.”








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