Complementary feeding as part of better nutrition for upland communities

Feeding infants complementary food after a period of exclusive breast milk is critical for healthy development, say World Agroforestry Researchers in northern Thailand


By Surachet Jinakaew, Posri Leelapat and Anna Roesler


In 2013, a high percentage of wasting and stunting among children under five was found in Mae Chaem, Chiang Mai province, Thailand, by the research project, Nutrition and Food Security in the Uplands of Thailand, which was funded by the International Development Research Centre.

Complimentary feeding begins at 6 months. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Tanawit Wongsur

Complementary feeding begins at 6 months. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Tanawit Wongsur

Further investigation found that the caregivers of children under five lacked knowledge about preparing complementary foods. This, along with cultural dietary preferences and lack of breastfeeding knowledge, was probably a major factor in the high malnutrition rates. The low availability of some food types (such as vegetable oils and vegetables) could also have been contributing to the low nutrient intakes because the complementary foods provided by the caregivers were of low nutritional value and were given before the recommended introduction age of six months.

Good nutrition in the early stages of life, especially in the first year, is important for growth and cognitive development. For the first six months it is recommended that all children are given only breast milk because it provides complete nutrition for the child. Six months after birth, an infant should be started on complementary foods, that is, foods other than breast milk, because breast milk can no longer  supply all the nutrients the developing infant requires. Complementary foods should be provided according to the child’s age and ability, therefore, the texture can change from pureed through to solid foods and the quantities can respectively increase as the child requires increased amounts.

However, in upland areas of Thailand, complementary foods are not always provided according to recommendations because parents do not have enough money to buy food, because of particular beliefs about child nutrition or misunderstanding and ignorance, resulting in nutritional and health problems.

According to household interviews conducted by the World Agroforestry Centre in 2013, rice was the main crop, with farmers practising shifting cultivation and plantation permanent agriculture. Most households also raised chickens and pigs though the chickens were kept for cultural rituals and not for the production of eggs. The data gathered by the Centre has been used to develop guidelines to improve food security and food diversity in the area.

The next three main activities planned by World Agroforestry Centre researchers in the nutrition and food security project are 1) encouragement of home gardening by providing the participating households with high-nutritional-value seeds and promoting their cultivation; 2) providing chickens and training on the importance of protein, such as that from chickens and eggs, for child growth; and 3) promoting local foods to be used in the preparation of complementary food by training caregivers in food processing and the nutrition for their children.







Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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