Examining Food Choices in Rwanda and the Shift to Animal-Sourced Foods


Examining Food Choices in Rwanda and the Shift to Animal-Sourced Foods
Photo Credit: Dr. Olivier Muhoza

This blog, written by Vivekan Jeyagaran, Carolina Pimentel CorrêaMeghan Bolden, and David Byiringiro, was originally published on Agrilinks.

The authors would like to note that the Market Systems Midline assessment, specifically around the Ecological Factors index, received major contributions from Larissa Schneider and Tasnuva Ahmed Oni, and the many enumerators who masterfully interviewed respondents in Rwanda.

Decisions that we make every day about the food we eat are not fully under our own control. As part of the Orora Wihaze (Raise Animals for Self-Sufficiency) Activity in Rwanda, we recently examined behaviors at various levels of the market system that could influence the potential for people to consume Animal-Sourced Food (ASF). 

The five-year Feed the Future Orora Wihaze Activity focuses on the livestock market systems. MarketShare Associates and Orora Wihaze developed the Ecological Factors that Affect ASF Food Intake Index based on research by the WIC program in the United States and PhotoVoice work in Canada. This index helped us understand the different factors that affect food intake and the opportunities to influence them, and the role that different market system functions and actors are playing in influencing ASF consumption. Most importantly, we learned that the public sector’s work in raising awareness of and encouraging ASF consumption is relatively more prominent and recognized by consumers compared to our baseline. Respondents also recognize the need for more (and lack of) product development, marketing of, and promotion to consumers of ASF, particularly around food safety. 

The Index – What Is It? 

The Ecological Factors refer to the contextual aspects in the home or community that influence dietary behavior (for example, home availability or accessibility of certain foods). These factors capture the patterns of decisions that influence diet but do not attempt to directly measure diet, which can make them easier to recall and less susceptible to various types of bias. Many contextual factors affect dietary behavior, and no single factor explains why we choose to eat what we do. To understand the factors that influence the complex series of decisions that lead to dietary behavior, we used an inductive approach to capture what factors are influencing dietary behavior at each of the levels. We used a deductive approach to collect qualitative data using a semi-structured questionnaire that was coded and analyzed as per the factors, and we assessed the strength of the 14 identified factors related to ASF food intake on a scale from 0 (low) to 3 (high).

What Does the Midline Assessment Tell Us? 

We conducted a market systems baseline at project start, and recently, a midline assessment. The purpose of the Market Systems Midline assessment is to update Orora Wihaze’s understanding of existing market system dynamics and how they have changed since the baseline assessment. Among the system dynamics studied in the Market Systems Midline are the Ecological Factors that Affect ASF Intake, which are measured by the index. The factors that affect intake are:

  1. Institutional factors assess the prevalence of informal and formal rules that may influence collective dietary behaviors such as community expectations, governmental practices and regulations, and market-related factors. Respondents reported that the public sector’s work on raising awareness is prominent and well noted, but they are expecting to see more marketing of ASF from the private sector (i.e., retailers) to them as consumers. One respondent mentioned that the messaging of [the] nutritional value of ASF “is really prevalent because we get information from the radio, health centers and health workers. The program of Kitchen Village has made the message more prevalent and contributed to the change of mindset regarding the preparation of a balanced diet to fight malnutrition and stunting.” Meanwhile, others noted that "the marketing is not done. Farmers are advised to eat ASF by the Community Health Workers. But, I think marketing should be done for everyone not for special cases like women, children and pregnant women”.
  2. Interpersonal factors assess the expectations of the household that may influence dietary behaviors. The most interesting observation from the evidence found that, compared to the baseline, there is a higher expectation around ASF being offered at social gatherings with friends, families, and church and school community members.  
  3. Individual factors assess the individual beliefs, knowledge and tastes that may influence dietary behaviors. Most respondents did not mention taste preferences (or any resistance) regarding the consumption of ASF, and so, taste preference does not seem to be a deterrent to consumption. At baseline, the issue of not liking the taste of ASF appeared as something more relevant, but at midline we noticed that there are some signs of change in this taste perception. Improved knowledge about the nutritional value of ASF was observed, especially its value for pregnant women and children.

While the midline does not assess attribution or contribution from the program, we are facilitating many new inclusive and innovative practices, structures and business models. Orora Wihaze is facilitating public messaging on the nutritional value, diet preparation and importance of ASF through Community Health Workers (CHWs), Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs), veterinarians, organized small livestock producer platforms and others. Our work with the Rwanda Inspectorate, Competition and Consumer Protection Authority (RICA) is strengthening consumer confidence in and reliability of the quality and safety of ASF by improving sector Standards of Operations. Working through Community-Based Savings Groups and Cooperatives, our partners are shifting norms towards including ASF in the daily diet rather than solely for social gatherings through Village Nutrition Schools. Additionally, Orora Wihaze is facilitating innovations and inclusive business models with abattoirs, food processors and retailers to produce more affordable ASF products and distribute rurally.

How Has It Been Used? 

After the baseline, an observation tool was developed considering additional research by an implementing partner, The Manoff Group. Orora Wihaze's district teams used this tool to monitor their observations of changes in the districts, in addition to the baseline and midline assessment of the index. An internal database maintains these observations, flagging any interesting changes or findings during that period. Some notable observations that draw links to nutrition messaging activities that Orora Wihaze facilitated were found in some districts. In Nyamasheke, there was increased debate and conversations about public messaging about ASF nutrition broadcasted through radio and online commentary. Meanwhile in Rutsiro, a WhatsApp group of fathers was abuzz with discussion of meat, milk and eggs in children’s diets, for the first time in 4 years. A fish trading cooperative in Burera started to sell a new and small fish snack product for 100 RWF, wrapped in a banana leaf, instead of selling only fresh fish to households.

What’s Next?

The index was designed and used for the first time under Orora Wihaze. We expect its utility will be strengthened as we continue to learn, apply and adapt. With this in mind, we expect that Orora Wihaze and other Nutrition-focused Activities can design their partnerships, intentionally targeting the improvement of ecological factors that are modifiable and influence the potential consumption of ASF. For starters, Orora Wihaze will be targeting some of the aforementioned factors that have more influence through our facilitation with partners, as detailed by the other Orora Wihaze blogs published this month.

Our hope is that this tool or others with comparable purposes will be considered and shared to advance ongoing measurement of these factors. When an activity uses a market systems approach to facilitate sustainable changes and outcomes that promote food and nutrition security, it is helpful to have tools to monitor and evaluate the systemic changes.  While many tools exist for monitoring food market prices, nutritious foods availability and accessibility, and recall of dietary and consumption practices, a tool like this relatively new index helps to identify and gauge how such practices, foods and prices may become more positively influential in the decision-making on food intake

The researchers involved in this assessment recognize that the use of the tool can be improved and welcome feedback and input on how to pinpoint and track shifts in the factors that influence food intake going forward.