Issue 26 Editorial
Over the years, Field Exchange has had its fair share of criticism to which the editorial team have always tried to respond positively. More often than not, we publish critical views in the letters section. It's probably true to say that the ENN are in some way reassured by critical emails and letters as it shows that readers care enough about the publication to write in. In this issue of Field Exchange, we publish a number of letters (see letters section) which we have actively solicited in response to criticisms (published in FEx 23 and 24). These concern a purported bias by Field Exchange to publish articles on 'high technology foods' like RUTF, as well as a potential conflict of interest for the ENN in accepting funding from private sector companies involved in production of foods like RUTF. Further input and views from our readers on these issues would be most welcome.
The issue of appropriateness of technical and western derived solutions to developing country problems is an interesting one. In FEx 26, we have three field articles which describe programmes or approaches involving some form of technology. The technologies range from the very 'high tech', i.e. use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to very 'low tech', i.e. micro-gardening. The GIS article by Filippo Dibari, Andrew Seal and Paolo Paron provides detailed guidance on how to apply GIS analysis to conventional nutritional survey data sets, as well as the benefits, resource needs and constraints of this tool. The article on micro-gardening, provided by ACF-USA, describes an IDP programme in Gulu, northern Uganda, involving micro-gardening in bags using locally available materials and low maintenance systems. This form of production, which is especially useful in cramped conditions, appears to have been highly effective in promoting food security and increasing consumption of vegetables amongst a highly food insecure population. A third field article, also written by ACH staff, describes the experience of using a portable photometer to measure red blood cell haemoglobin levels in children affected by flooding in the city of Santa Fe, Argentina. The authors argue that the device provides a valuable means of complementing anthropometric data with information on anaemia - a frequently hidden problem.
In response to another criticism of Field Exchange - about the 'eurocentric' nature of Field Exchange photographs (Renzaho, A, Issue 23, p17), the ENN commissioned a small-scale review of past pictures. The piece, written by Dorrie Chetty, a senior lecturer in sociology at Westminster University, explores issues of representation using a cross-section of Field Exchange photographs and certainly provides food for thought.
There are several other highlights of this issue's research section. A review by the HPG in ODI on the response to the perceived food crisis in Niger asserts that, in spite of ample early warning, the late response was, in part, due to the view within government and the donor community that food aid may disrupt markets, encourage dependency and harm development mechanisms. These fears appear to have resulted in an extreme reluctance to move from subsidised food to free food distribution. Another example of ideology prevailing over common sense?
It is worrying that a frequently heard justification amongst donor agencies for not intervening in crises, or for reducing support in protracted emergencies, is that there is a risk of creating dependency. Yet, if examined closely, the argument that poor communities, households and individuals will stop trying to 'get ahead' if in receipt of a food aid ration for any period of time seems very questionable. Indeed, recent research on dependency, also conducted by HPG and summarised in this issue of Field Exchange, concludes that there is little evidence that relief undermines initiative or that its delivery is reliable or transparent enough for people to depend on it. The authors of this study also argue that in situations where peoples lives and livelihoods are under acute threat, and local capacities to cope with crisis are overwhelmed, being able to depend on receiving assistance should be seen as a good thing.
This issue's research section also carries exciting new findings based on work by SC UK on the aetiology of kwashiorkor and the potential of supplementary feeding programmes to prevent its development by treating children with early signs of the condition. The findings are important and challenge a number of previously held assumptions.
Important infant feeding issues are flagged in a recent paper published in the BMJ. The research investigated infant feeding patterns and risk of hospitalisation and death in infants under six months of age, in India, Ghana and Peru. While there was no significant difference in death rate between exclusively and predominately breastfed infants, those who were not breastfed were over ten times more likely to die than predominately breastfed infants. Partially breastfed infants had an almost two and a half times greater risk of death. As well as demonstrating how critically important it is to consider the risk of not breastfeeding, especially in emergencies, the authors highlight how closer assessment of infant feeding practices could help prioritise where to target resources in order to maximise impact of intervention. In reality, the humanitarian community rarely adopt such a considered approach to supporting infants in emergencies. Assessment of infant morbidity, mortality and infant feeding practice in emergencies is, at best, inconsistent and, more typically, absent. The valuable collation of nutritional survey material by the UN SCN, published in 'Nutrition Information in Crisis Situations' (NICS), does not systematically collect infant feeding data, or endorse an approach for monitoring the well-being of infants. Including some simple, standard indicators on infant and young child feeding in early needs assessment and in routine nutritional surveillance would be a good start to resolving the blind spot that currently exists. A move by the SCN/NICS (or some other body) to seek and collate infant feeding data would be a welcome development.
Finally, on a completely different matter, the ENN are calling for input on the selection of trustees, in light of the decision to apply for registration as a charity in the UK (see news piece on p18 for details).
We sincerely hope that you enjoy this issue of Field Exchange.
Jeremy Shoham and Marie McGrath
Any contributions, ideas or topics for future issues of Field Exchange? Contact the editorial team on email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 26, November 2005