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Article Hero - Eat Balance Diets

Originally published by Unilever in 2020

Our Seeds of Prosperity program is helping tea workers and their families improve their health and well-being through more nutritious, diverse diets.

Around half a billion people across the globe are small-scale farmers who rely on small plots of land to grow food to eat and sell.

However, to earn a living, they often sell their best crops. This leaves them with a basic diet that usually contains too many starchy foods such as rice, corn and wheat.

It might be cheap and filling, but this kind of diet lacks important vitamins and minerals. And that carries several health risks, including less resistance to infections and reduced brain and body development.

Poor diets also have a knock-on economic effect. Research estimates that adults who were malnourished as children earn at least 20% less on average than those who weren’t*. This all adds up. Malnutrition can cost countries around 10% of GDP due to early deaths and lower productivity**.

To help tackle this issue, we joined forces with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and IDH (the Sustainable Trade Initiative) to develop the Seeds of Prosperity programme – promoting the benefits of eating nutritious foods and a diverse, balanced diet.

Together, we’ve implemented the program at ekaterra Tea Tanzania, reaching over 6,500 plantation workers and local tea farmers and, in turn, their families. And the results are promising.

Those taking part said they’re eating better and budgeting for healthier foods. It’s early days but it looks like the program has even helped to reduce cases of anemia in the local hospital.

Over a quarter of the world’s population suffers from anemia, which is mainly caused by not getting enough iron in your diet. This results in tiredness and weakness and can lead to more serious health conditions, particularly in women.

As Abdallah Hamadi, Excellence Manager at our Tea Tanzania Operation says: “Improving the health of the farmers in our value chain is a moral responsibility, but it also secures essential supplies, expands the market for our products and increases the resilience of our business model. Without a healthy workforce, we can’t have a healthy business.”

“Poor quality diets are the greatest driver of disease globally. Ensuring individuals have a varied diet with the right nutrients can be transformative for people, businesses and economies,” adds Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director of GAIN. “It is great to see ekaterra demonstrating that companies can support nutritious diets for workers in their supply chains as a core part of sustainable business.”

How the program works

Seeds of Prosperity informs workers and their families about diverse diets and why they matter. It aims to increase the number of food groups they consume, and get more essential vitamins and minerals. It also provides seeds so households can grow their own vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

The program uses posters and reminder messages on payslips to help keep healthy eating front of mind.

Trained ‘educators’ then pass on these messages to raise awareness in the wider community and bring about additional change, for example, with mothers and with children in schools.

This approach is clearly working and maybe even reaching further than we anticipated. As Welfare Manager Dickson Mseti says: “The most rewarding part was when I visited a local restaurant and they were speaking about food groups. They were not part of the program, but it shows the message is getting through and spreading.”

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From small seeds to big a difference

Since starting as a pilot project in India in 2016, we’ve rolled out the Seeds of Prosperity program across our tea supply chains in Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania.

We’ve reached over 300,000 people so far – and we’re working on spreading the message even further.