How can Armenian media play a key role in raising awareness about malnutrition and food security issues?

Increasing the nutrition awareness of the population at large in Armenia to reduce malnutrition and tackle food security issues is a challenge that Oxfam has taken on over the past year. And we believe that in order to succeed, we must first increase the awareness of journalists on food security and healthy nutrition. On July 25-26th 2015, Oxfam initiated a workshop for mass media representatives. More than 15 journalists of well known Armenian TV, radio and printed media companies participated in the workshop and took part in lively discussions around the topic, which resulted in a number of media publications on the discussed issues.

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Nowadays, in Armenia food security, specifically food safety and healthy nutrition, are in public discussions. Recent cases of mass poisoning in public places, kindergartens and remote villages became an appalling signal that the sector needs serious reforms. This year, only during last two months 10 cases of outbreak of food poisoning were registered in public places, from which 5 were in kindergartens.    As a result, more than 100 people, mostly children, suffered.  The scale of the problem is backed up by national statistics on malnutrition and prove that there is a need for serious interventions:

  • Malnutrition rate in poor families is 25% and 16% in well-off families. This demonstrates that poverty is not the only underlying cause for the problem but also the lack of knowledge among the population, especially mothers, also contribute to the problem;
  • Malnutrition results in a very high prevalence of overweight 55% and obesity 24% among adults because of diets too rich in carbohydrates such as cereals, starchy roots and sweeteners;
  • Malnutrition is also about not consuming enough food – In 2013, 59.2% of our population consumed less than 2,100 Kcal/day, while the minimum energy requirement in Armenia is 2412 and 2700 kcal in developed countries;
  • Malnutrition causes chronic disease – stunting of preschool children has been steady at around 20% of children aged up to 5 with life-long consequences on their physical and mental development while other chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, blood pressure diseases have also increased in the last 10 years.

In this regard, the role of mass media is vital not only as an essential tool for raising public awareness, but also for mobilising public demand for improved food safety standards and healthy nutrition in the country. Yet most of the time, they report about short terrifying news about food poisoning cases, without any analysis of the root causes, recommendations or solutions.

The workshop with representatives of the leading media channels in Armenia organized by Oxfam aimed to provide journalists and editors with strong killer facts on nutrition and food safety issues, to educate them on food security and to generate influential public debate around these issues. During the workshop, which turned into an educational event with lively discussions and challenging Q and A sessions, journalists improved their understanding on the challenges that the country is facing in these areas.  Keynotes speakers provided valuable input which generated hot discussions and were reflected in the follow-up media publications.
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The representative of the Ministry of Agriculture stated that his agency is responsible only for the physical availability of food, while other state institutions including the Ministry of Social Affairs, should deal with the issues related to food access, food use and stability. This statement demonstrated the lack of coordination and cooperation between the state agencies dealing with different dimensions of food safety and food security in the country.

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An invited expert on Food Safety stated that although HACCP certification is a legal requirement in Armenia, it is very expensive for local producers and its mandatory implementation could paralyse the local economy so in practice it is still voluntary. Armenia, as a member of the Eurasian Economic Union where HACCP citification is mandatory both for food export and production, got a one year “grace period” to impose mandatory HACCP certification in the country. Experts claim that this is not a realistic time line for such a transition. Nowadays, few organizations in Armenia have the HACCP certification, and for local food producers it can cost several thousands of dollars to organize food production in line with HACCP standards. This is an additional economic burden for the population, which can result in increased food prices. HACCP certification takes at least 5-7 years, investment in facilities, training and much support in order to comply. How will Armenia manage and what will be the impact on food security and nutrition for the population in the coming years?

Participants left the workshop energized by the topic of food security and nutrition. The day after the training, about 9 well thought publications appeared in well known media channels on the topic of malnutrition, the implications of Armenia membership to the Eurasian Economic Union in light of HACCP regulations, the overall food security situation in the country as well as about Oxfam’s ongoing Food Security Project, funded by the European Union.

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Journalists lack awareness on food security issues and this training was very useful for us.  We will be able to cover topics related to food security more professionally….This is a good opportunity for networking, the launch of new cooperation…. I am impressed with the level of professionalism that we have in this sector.”

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Oxfam is keen to develop a long term comprehensive campaign on food security and nutrition, and to use the media to report on the issues and their implications for the Armenia population. Journalists will be key to initiate the larger public debates which will no doubt generate great interest.  We will continue to work with journalists, organize public events and press conferences to provide update on food security and healthy nutrition to the general public. Oxfam is currently carrying out a research on nutrition and will share its findings in the fall of 2015.

If you care about food safety and food security in Armenia and the South Caucasus, join us and take an action! Tell us a story or write a blog with a few photos to share food security related problems in your neighbourhood or community and send to us.  Or just leave a comment to this blog reflecting on the topic, questions that you may have or why you think that we need to improve food security in our country and in the region.