Identifying interventions to help rural Kenyan mothers cope with food insecurity: results of a focused ethnographic study

Matern Child Nutr. 2015 Dec;11 Suppl 3(Suppl 3):21-38. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12244.


An ethnographic study was conducted in two areas in southern and western Kenya to identify potential interventions to improve the quality, availability and affordability of foods consumed by infants and young children. A cultural-ecological model of determinants of nutrition identified the sectors of information for data collection related to infant and young child (IYC) diet and feeding-related behaviours, and the focused ethnographic study manual was used to guide the research. The results provide qualitative evidence about facilitators and constraints to IYC nutrition in the two geographical areas and document their inter-connections. We conclude with suggestions to consider 13 potential nutrition-sensitive interventions. The studies provide empirical ethnographic support for arguments concerning the importance of combining nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions through a multi-sectoral, integrated approach to improve the nutrition of infants and young children in low-income, resource-constrained populations. They also document the value of ethnography as a component of landscape analysis in nutrition programme and policy planning. Key messages In addition to constraints on infant and young child diet that originate in environmental and technological conditions in both agro-ecological zones, other factors that affect feeding practices include features of social organisation, household access to social support, caregivers income-earning activities and their own health. The results of the ethnographies, which highlight the importance of obtaining the knowledge and perspectives of caregivers of infants and young children, reveal the interactions of the multiple factors that affect child nutrition and the need for simultaneous nutrition-sensitive interventions to complement nutrition-specific intervention actions. Most caregivers in both areas not only understood the importance of diet and food quality for child survival, they also regarded it as essential for child growth and development. This indicates that caregivers in these rural Kenyan communities have adopted the basic biomedical interpretation of the importance of child nutrition as an integral part of their 'knowledge frameworks'.

Keywords: ethnography; infant and young child nutrition; multi-sectoral interventions; social and behaviour change communication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Anthropology, Cultural*
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Food Supply*
  • Health Education
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Kenya
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Nutritive Value
  • Poverty
  • Rural Population*
  • Water Supply