The “Ndiro ya Baba” Phenomenon:…A closer look at the intra household food distribution in Zimbabwe

TO those who have had a stint with rural life you might have across these phrases, “Musana Wehuku Ndewababa,” loosely translated as “only the father or man of the house is the one who eats the entire Chicken’s back.” In Masvingo it’s called Chiteretere and in some households, women have even been sent packing for wrongly allocating chicken portions.

By Dr Tonde Matsungo (PhD, MPhil, BSc) and Dexter Chagwena

To consume the entire Chicken’s back, a humongous mountain of Sadza has to complement the meal. The practice whereby the father or the boy child normally gets bigger portion sizes of the sadza or meat (protein source) compared to the mothers and the girl child in Zimbabwe is known as “Ndiro Yababa” phenomenon translated as “Father’s Plate” and has been going on for decades in Zimbabwe and other African societies. This accusation is often met with strong defense from the husbands who argue that “vana mai vanopedza ma sports mu kitchen, when they taste the food during cooking.”

Food distribution within a household is usually not equitable due to our beliefs or our traditional practices. The practice of Ndiro Yababa does not only affect the man himself but it also affects the children and the women as well.

The ZimVAC, 2021 rural livelihoods assessment report revealed that 27% of households were food insecure. These vulnerable households, everyday should make difficult decisions about how limited food should be shared among their members.

Intra-household food distribution is a grey area or ‘black box’ due to limited data
in our context. However, expert opinion has it that there is an unfair bias to 
allocate more food to men, the “Ndiro ya Baba” phenomenon.

The traditional bias to the “men of the house” puts women and girls at a disadvantage in terms of accessing adequate and nutritious foods and hence at increased risk of undernutrition. In the contrary the generous portions of the staple sadza that the fathers and boys get implies that they get more energy (Kcal) than they actually require.

Ultimately, they tend to gain more weight or suffer from obesity. This might explain why the risk of heart disease and other cardio-metabolic accidents is generally high among males compared to females.

You find out that when men are receiving a huge chunk of food including a lot of meat and all, in most cases, what happens is they get a very big portion of the staple be it Sadza or Rice and the bad thing about that is that they are taking a lot of carbohydrates that will then be broken down into glucose and all that excess carbohydrate will be stored in the body and converted as fat.

We have challenges of men now getting obese and getting overweight and the bad thing about it is that in most cases usually when excess fat is stored in the body, it’s deposited around the stomach and that is why now we have a lot of cases of abdominal obesity amongst men which have long terms consequences in terms of being linked to chronic illness such as diabetes, High Blood pressure and heart diseases.

This calls for the need to change the community or and societal views on intra-household food distribution. For example, newly wed men are expected to have protruding tummies as evidence (V11) that their wives are taking good care of them. At pragmatic level, nutrition programs providing social transfers at the household level may fail to reach the vulnerable women and children. Therefore, we see the need for a shift in how social protection programs are implemented in light of the unfair food allocation in some households.

Dr T Matsungo is from the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Sciences, 
University of Zimbabwe. Dexter Chagwena is a Nutritionist and Researcher in the 
Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) Nutrition Department.




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