Improving Health and Nutrition in Tea Communities, Uganda

It’s been a year now since I travelled to the most western part of Uganda, near the Congolese border, and visited tea workers in their home environments. People were cooking on open fires, children were playing around in the red sand, cooking pots and plates were drying in the sun. The land in that region is almost exclusively used for tea growing, which leaves the tea communities quite isolated; the nearest markets and schools are miles away. Walking children in their neat school uniforms lined the roads in the early morning and late afternoon. I always wondered what they had for breakfast, before they set off on their long journey.

Malnutrition is a real issue in Uganda. A report by USAID entitled ‘The Analysis of the Nutrition Situation in Uganda’ (May 2010) says: “While at the national level Uganda currently produces sufficient food to meet the needs of its rapidly growing population, the proportion of Ugandans unable to access adequate calories increased from 59% in 1999 to 69% in 2006. The persistent high rates of malnutrition in Uganda also attest to this reality: 38% of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition (stunting), 16% from underweight, and 6% from acute malnutrition.”

When we interviewed 120 tea workers (92% women) about their eating habits we found that there were big gaps in their diet. They mainly consumed legumes (beans, ground nuts), tubers (sweet potato, cassava), and cereals (maize, rice, millet); starchy foods that fill their stomachs, but don’t give them a great deal of essential vitamins and minerals. Eaten in much lower quantities were green leafy and other coloured vegetables, and fruits. Protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, and eggs were almost entirely missing from most respondents’ diets.

In order to address some of this imbalance we trained 72 worker leaders from 65 different housing groups on vegetable growing between July and September 2014, skills they then passed on to other tea workers and their families. By the end of the year, 380 kitchen gardens had been set up with seeds we had distributed, on land around the workers’ houses. As part of this we also highlighted what constitutes a good and balanced diet, and not just for workers who need the energy to get through a hard working day, but also for children who need to grow and learn at school.

We therefore developed a training manual with Uganda Action for Nutrition, explaining the concept of a balanced diet, linking nutrition to wider health matters, and also covering basic hygiene practices. Again, we then trained estate personnel on the materials so that they can use this knowledge in their interactions with workers and the smallholder farmers that supply the estates. Alongside this we also created a poster that can be displayed in strategic places around the estates and worker communities. I am pleased that these training materials are now available on our website. Because this has been such a positive programme plans are already in place to roll it out to other countries – more on this coming soon.

This work was made possible with the support from IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative) and Tata Global Beverages (Tetley tea).