Combating food insecurity from Ryerson to Vietnam

Food insecurity is a battle that most Canadians are lucky enough not to face. But Ryerson University is tackling it across the world, on the streets of Vietnam.

Researchers from the university have recently collaborated with the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), to create the Vietnamese Food Security Project to try to combat poverty.

The project’s goal is to produce fortified foods, particularly complementary foods for children, and weaning babies. Crops are grown, bought, and distributed locally. The nutriments will end up at a number of health clinics in Vietnam and even some in commercial outlets.

The NIN, under the Ministry of Health in Vietnam, is working to set up small-scale processing plants in the poorest areas of Vietnam. The total grant for the two-and-a-half year long project is approximately $1.6 million. Global Affairs Canada and the International Development Research Centre have granted $1.2 million for the project, and Ryerson, alongside the NIN, have contributed the rest.

A significant fraction of the money is being used to set up processing plants. The remainder works towards training employees at the plants, training specialists at local health clinics to advise mothers on how to use the products, educating professionals and policy makers on food security issues, and training the farmers to produce crops for appropriate nutritious qualities.

With Ryerson’s financial input, the university has a say on what agreements the government makes with the private sector. Their goal is to maintain the quality of the products and verify they’re being bought from female farmers.

“We want to buy all the crops from women farmers in the area, so that it will increase their income,” said Cecilia Rocha, director of the school of nutrition and head researcher of the project at Ryerson.

VietnamFoodSecurity_NataliaBalcerzak

Although the idea was born in Vietnam, the university plays an essential role in the project. They assist the NIN with the training aspects, and help analyze the best business model for them. This includes distribution questions, baseline data that needs to be collected, percentage estimations of people needing assistance, and developing strategies to reach them.

Andrea Moraes, the gender coordinator from the Canadian side of the project, sees Ryerson’s role in two fronts: as a research and support partner. Moraes’ future undertaking includes the design, implementation, and monitoring of the project’s gender strategy.

“We have a very diverse team of researchers at Ryerson, with lots of experience in different regions of the world, as well as from different perspectives and disciplines,” Moraes said. “We will support the Vietnam team during the different steps of the project and learn from and with them.

According to Rocha, the success of the project depends on how long it stays running. “The prevalence of malnourishment can be from 30 to 50 per cent of the children under the age of five, so it’s a significant number,” she said.

The Ryerson research team expects to be in direct contact with their Vietnamese partners further down the line. They hope that thousands of children in Vietnam will benefit from this project.

A bright future is within view for the project. “We are all working for that,” Moraes said.

Images by Natalia Balcerzak