Household food security has been described with a three-factor definition: 1) the availability
of food, 2) the access thereto, and lastly 3) the food utilization patterns and practices. In
previous research, both the availability and access to food were studied in a farming
community in the Free State Province to understand how these factors contribute to
household food security. However food utilization was not investigated at the time. Food
consumption patterns of households deserve attention, particularly in relation to food
gardens and nutrition, including the cultivation cycle, dietary norms and practices, and
methods of food preparation and preservation. By studying utilization patterns of foods, the
context of food insecurity and the resultant malnutrition can be better understood.
The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the food utilization strategies of a
known food crop (spinach) can be used to establish efficient utilization of a new, unfamiliar
crop (orange-fleshed sweet potato) in a farm worker community.
Three focus group interviews were conducted with a total of 21 participants to determine
current food utilization patterns of spinach and orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP). The
women were asked to describe how they currently utilize these crops in the same focus
group discussion (although the focus was on the known crop (spinach)) to understand what
actions they take during the process of utilization, from access to disposal. They were asked
to describe which tools and methods they apply, and who participates in all these various
activities. Subsequently, the respondents were asked to perform all these steps while being
observed to record current practices. Data from the focus group interviews and the
observations were transcribed and categorized under themes. It was found that in addition to
a lack of dietary diversity and subsequent malnutrition found discovered in another study of
this community, that they are also not optimally utilizing their food. This is as a direct result of
lack of access to a variety of food due to monetary constraints, lack of nearby shops, a lack
of cultivation and production education about crops that can be home-produced, and a lack
of knowledge about nutrition and the importance of a varied diet. A food-based approach to
improve the lack of knowledge of home-produced crops and nutrition was, consequently, the
focus of this utilization strategy. This information was used to design a food-based strategy
to improve the utilization of an unfamiliar crop (OFSP), in areas where the food crop was not
being utilized optimally. Although the strategy was developed based on observations and
lessons from one specific community, the principal findings were used to develop a strategy
that is generic to the implementation of an unfamiliar food crop, and can then be refined for a
specific community before implementation. A complete training manual was developed to
complement the food-based strategy. The researcher then tested the strategy with
agricultural extension officers who are active in communities where food insecurity and
malnutrition exist during a training programme hosted by the Agricultural Research Council -
Roodeplaat. The agricultural extension officers provided input on the strategy and identified
areas for improvement. These recommendations were adapted in a manual to ensure that
the developed strategy could be broadly implemented in other communities.
The overall conclusion of the study is that it is necessary to investigate and understand all
elements of the food utilization system to truly understand the reasons for observed
behaviour, habits and practices. Planning and developing a nutrition education programme
requires systematic analysis of nutrition and health-related problems in a given community.
It is evident that each step of the utilization cycle is equally critical and should enjoy
comparable attention to facilitate delivery of nutrient-rich foodstuffs to the end user.
Dissertation (MConsumer Science)--University of Pretoria, 2012.