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I’ve been interested in nutrition and food security all my life and career. When the opportunity arose several years ago to work on a team and devise an approach for the Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of Monsanto, I jumped at the chance to help. The Monsanto Fund is designed to improve the lives of people around the world by providing resources to meet their needs and create grant programs that address malnutrition in communities where we work.

The Need in Petrolina, Brazil

The area of Petrolina, Brazil in the Northeast state of Pernambuco was selected for one of our Monsanto Fund projects. Petrolina has roughly 340,000 inhabitants (per IBGE data). Nearly 40 percent of the population lives with a per capita household monthly income of less than $180.  The number of impoverished is extensive, yet somewhat unknown as municipality records are not totally accurate. There is a modest portion of the population who even reside without access to drinking water, sewage collection or treatment systems, or well-paved streets.

In order to help improve nutrition and access to healthy food for mothers and young children in Brazil, the Monsanto Fund committed $3 million over three years.

This support is coming to life is through a partnership with INMED Partnerships for Children. INMED began developing the Crescer Saudável [Growing Healthy] program in June 2016. Through Monsanto Fund’s support, the program is establishing vegetable gardens at 125 preschools. Each school plants a garden with the help of the children’s parents and a program agronomist, learning how to care for and harvest food that they then eat as a part of their school meals.

The program also provides nutrition education for children and resources for mothers, teachers, food preparers and local health professionals to help encourage long-term, healthy eating habits—both in schools and at home.

One educational activity that particularly stuck out to me was the children create artistic designs with fruit to teach them the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption. The program nutritionist and community coordinators, as well as the support of the town’s mayor, are critical to the success of the program, which is expected to benefit more than 58,000 people in Petrolina. This includes 33,000 children ages six months to five years old.

Visiting INMED Partnerships for Children

The highlight of my involvement with The Monsanto Fund and this project was visiting Petrolina. One day, I visited one of the preschools, and the children wore colorful aprons with pictures of fruits and vegetables and sang a beautiful song in Portuguese. The refrain translated to, “Eat, Eat to grow and be healthy; and my mother will be so happy”. The parents were present for the performance and heard from the school’s principal on the importance of the program. Then, together with their children, the parents harvested the lettuce, cilantro, and onions that were growing the school’s yard.

In talking with the principal, teachers, and program coordinators, several lessons have already emerged in the first year of this three-year project:

  • Children at this age are curious and open to experimentation. They eagerly listen to stories, such as the history of the kiwi, and then they are willing to try this fruit for the first time. One mother mentioned how her older children had already grown resistant to trying new things and how she was so happy to have her younger child exposed to healthy eating habits.
  • Children are activators. In the few months that the program has been under way, several mothers have commented how their children are asking for the same foods they tried at school to be served at home.
  • Lack of knowledge around nutrition and food preparation, as well as cost barriers to purchasing fruits and veggies, are common issues heard from parents.
  • It takes a village—the principal commented that when the school, family, children and local government are all working together, change can happen.

It was such an inspiring visit, and I look forward to all the wonderful things these young people will do in their lives and communities.

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