My Nutrition Research

Part of my internship with the Rwanda Project is to conduct nutrition research. This involves asking a lot of questions to understand what people eat and why they eat the way that they do. At the conclusion of each nutrition training I have been able to ask the farmers questions about their diets. I’m very grateful to Tracy and Odeth for helping me ask these questions, as it would be impossible to do on my own.

I ask my questions in a focus group, so about 6 to 8 farmers circle around and discuss their answers to my questions. Usually they all come to an agreement and Tracy or Odeth will report it back to me. I have been able to do 6 focus groups so far, and they have yielded some very interesting information. I will share some of my initial findings here:

In every focus group I always ask “How many times a day do you eat?”

The answer is always “lunch and an evening meal.” Some have said that sometimes food is not available and then they will only eat in the evening. Interestingly, there is no such thing as snacking here. That is difficult for me to imagine because I don’t think I’ve ever gone a day without a snack to keep me going!

The response to my question “What are your feelings about chicken?” is always smiles and laughs. Tracy sometimes whispers to me, “This is the most obvious question. Of course they are so happy!” This is so incredible to hear because many of the farmers had only eaten chicken a few times in their life before participating in this project.

Four of my focus groups so far have been with farmers who already attended a nutrition training last year. These groups all reported using the “1 pot – 1 hour” method that they learned to cook their chicken. This is very great news because it saves the farmers time and money and it shows that our nutrition trainings are having a lasting impact.

Two of my focus groups so far have been with farmers who have never attended a nutrition training. I asked these farmers what they learned, and these are some of the answers I received:

“How to eat a balanced meal”

“The shopping activity showed me that I don’t need a lot of money to eat healthily”

“You only need a little money to buy everything you need”

“Giving biscuits (cookies) to my kids has been a priority for me. Now I will try and swap them with eggs”

“I did not know that eggs had any value”

These answers took my breath away. I found it incredible that many people didn’t know that eggs had any nutritional value. I truly saw the importance of these nutrition trainings as I saw the farmers excitedly nod their heads, saying that they would start purchasing eggs for their families.

I think an example of resiliency is how the farmers only eat 2 meals a day, and many only eat 1 meal a day. They perform manual labor for hours on end, but they only get to replenish their bodies once or twice a day. There was no embarrassment or shame behind these answers, however. It is simply the way things are for farmers here. They are content with what they have, and they are so grateful for any extra bit they can get. It would take an incredibly resilient person to live that lifestyle of constant work and little rest.

Our First Nutrition Training

It’s hard to believe that we have complete 8 nutrition trainings by now, but somehow we have managed it. We started our trainings at 8am on Wednesday May 29th with the pilot farmers from Muhoza. These farmers were the first to be trained in raising chickens and many have completed over 8 cycles already.

Looking out at the 30 chairs set up on the patio of the demo farm, I was very nervous for our first nutrition training. All 4 of us, Tracy, Patsy, Odeth, and I, had been preparing for this for months. I was very surprised, however, when 8am passed and not a single farmer had walked through the gates of Zamura’s Egg Farm. I had almost given up hope until I saw the first farmers arrive at 8:50am. By 9:30am, we had 33 farmers sitting in our audience.

            This was my first real introduction to “African time.” Things don’t happen on time here, simply put. A set time is simply a general idea, and people do not stress if they are late. This continues to be challenging for me in my second week here.  As a university student in the United States, I try my hardest to be early for everything. I am usually the first one sitting in all of my classes, and I am extremely anxious if I am more than a minute late.

            I am adjusting, however. I am always on time for my work with Zamura, but I don’t worry if others are not on time. From my experience so far, plans are always carried out eventually.

            Tracy and Odeth did an incredible job engaging the farmers throughout the training and getting them excited to learn about nutrition. We started the training out by introducing ourselves and the importance of nutrition. Then we asked the farmers for their definition of nutrition. I wished so badly I could understand Kinyarwanda as the farmers stood up one by one and stated their thoughts. Most of them say the words “ibiryo”  and “imbaraga,” which I have learned mean “food” and “strength,” respectively.

            I tried to contribute to the training as much as could with my limited Kinyarwanda. When we covered the “4 Colors” lesson, I talked about the color brown, which is protein. Tracy talked about the color green, which is immunity.  Odeth talked about white, or energy. Patsy talked about orange and red, which are the colors that help our eyes. Either Tracy or Odeth translated our explanations.

            The pilot farmers who came to our nutrition training on Wednesday morning are excellent examples of resiliency. Most of them walked for miles and miles to be present for our training. Some farmers even brought their spouses to attend. Several of the women walked there with babies on their backs.

            It was an honor for me to meet these pilot farmers from Muhoza because they were the first people to start raising chickens with Zamura. It probably took a leap of faith for them to join the project and begin raising chickens, and they have been resilient in going through 8 cycles of chickens.

Preparing for Our Nutrition Trainings

I’ve been in Rwanda one week now, but it feels like I have been here much longer. I finally know street names, I recognize people in the streets, and I feel comfortable hopping on a moto (a motorcycle- one of the main forms of transportation here) and telling the driver where I want to go.

Our nutrition team got to straight to work on Monday May 27th by finalizing our plans for the week’s nutrition trainings. The team involved with the nutrition trainings consists of: Ms. Patsy Watkins, a UT extension agent, Tracy Bucyana, Zamura’s nutrition coordinator and enumerator, Odette, a nutrition intern from the University of Rwanda, and myself. After reviewing our plans in the conference room at Zamura, we set out in a Zamura van to pick up groceries to practice our “1 pot- 1 hour” demonstration.

“1 pot- 1 hour” is simply a recipe for a stew that can be made with chicken. Preparing food takes up a large amount of time for the chicken farmers in the project, so many households will only eat 1 meal a day because they don’t have time to prepare more meals. We emphasize that this stew is a healthy meal that can be cooked in only 1 hour.

The first step in the process is to add soaked beans to a pot of boiling water. After letting the beans cook for 20 minutes one would add potato slices and cuts of chicken and cook that for another 20 minutes. Carrots and green peppers go in next and cook for 10 minutes. And finally onions and tomatoes cook for the last 10 minutes.  

Loaded down with 3 big bags of food and cooking supplies, we made our way to Zamura’s Egg Farm, also called the “Demo Farm.” The four of us worked together to cut up the ingredients for the “1 pot- 1 hour” demonstration, and we paid careful attention to add the foods to the pot at the right time.  

Benjamin, Zamura’s driver, tasting our practice trial of “1 pot- 1 hour.” He approves!

Our preparations for the nutrion trainings continued on Tuesday. We went back to the market to buy some extra ingredients for the “1 pot- 1 hour” demonstration and for the “shopping activity” that is included in the nutrition training.

The “shopping activity” is an exercise intended to demonstration to the chicken farmers how it is possible to make healthy choices even with little money to spend. We ask a volunteer from the group to come to the front and pick out the best foods to purchase with a certain amount of money. We display foods like potatoes, eggs, milk, amaranth, tomatoes, and onions. Foods like biscuits (like an American sugar cookie) and bottles of Fanta are also on display. It surprises many farmers to learn that the more nutrient-dense foods are actually less expensive than the processed food.

I think that our nutrition team showed great resilience during these days of preparation. We spent our mornings in markets selecting different ingredients and cooking supplies. We also forced to change our plans many times. An example is that we had planned to offer the farmers bottled milk as a snack during the trainings, and we learned just hours before the training began that our bottled milk was not available. Resilient and quick-thinking, Tracy called another store and ordered several boxes of packaged milk. These things challenged us, but we overcame them and had 5 great nutrition trainings last week.

About Me and My Internship

Here’s a little bit more information about me before I write more:                             

My name is Niamh Schumacher

My name is Irish and it is pronounced “Knee-of.”

My mom is from Ireland and I got to live there for 2 years when I was little!

I grew up in Seymour, Tennessee with my mom, dad, and 2 older brothers.

I will begin my 3rd year as a food science student at UT in the fall.

I was a competitive long distance runner in high school, and I ran cross country and track for UT during my first year as a student here.

My parents raised me as a vegetarian so I have never eaten meat!

I love nutrition and I really became interested in it in high school when as I was searching for plant-based foods high in protein to fuel my long distance running. I am so excited to be a nutrition intern for the Rwanda Project, and working in healthcare abroad is what I would love to do as a career.

I starting working as a nutrition intern for the Tworore Inkoko, Tunguska Project (or Rwanda Project, as I sometimes call it) in February of this year. There are 14 nutrition trainings taking place at the Zamura Feed Mill during May and June and I will be assisting with the trainings. I have been working with Patsy Watkins, a UTIA extension agent, and Tracy, the project’s nutrition administrator in Rwanda, to plan for the trainings. Dr. Brynn Voy, a professor in UT’s department of animal science and Emily Urban, the former Rwanda Project Program coordinator, have also helped in the planning of this summer’s nutrition trainings.

This is the third summer that the nutrition trainings are taking place in Musanze, and it is the first time that the project has recruited an intern to assist with the trainings. Another UT intern will also be working with the Rwanda Project this summer, and her name is Ashley Haylett. Ashley will be a 3rd year biosystems engineering student and she will be doing research on the soil where the farmers raise their chickens.

I am very grateful to UT for the opportunity to work with the Rwanda Project as an undergraduate student. I have already learned so much in the last 4 months as an intern, and I am so excited to share what I learn in Rwanda over the next 8 weeks on this blog!

About the Rwanda Project

Thank you for visiting my blog! My name is Niamh Schumacher and I am a nutrition intern with the Tworore Inkoko, Twunguke Project.  “Tworore Inkoko, Twunguke” is a Kinyarwanda phrase that means, “Let’s raise chickens for profit.” The project is supported by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, and its purpose is to give Rwandan people an opportunity to increase their income and improve their health by raising and selling chickens.

The project is based in Musanze, which is a district in Rwanda’s Northern Province. It functions with the help of Zamura Feeds, Rwanda’s first commercial feed mill. This is the third year of the Tworore Inkoko, Twunguke Project, and the project has already had great success. More than  350 Rwandan farmers have been trained by the project to raise chickens. The money the farmers make from selling their chickens has enabled some farmers to as much as quadruple their previous household income. That’s a huge success!

Aside from the monetary benefits, farmers are also improving their nutrition through the project. Instead of selling all of their chickens, farmers keep 2-3 chickens per 8-week (the time it takes to raise a group of chickens to market weight) cycle to eat. Eating those 2-3 chickens per cycle diversifies the diet of the participating families and greatly increases their consumption of animal-based protein. (Many of the project’s farmers say that their families ate meat only once a year before they started raising chickens!)

Because families in Musanze are unaccustomed to eating chicken, the Tworore Inkoko, Tunguska Project provides nutrition trainings for its farmers. This is where my role as a nutrition intern begins.