Which should come first, the chicken or the egg?

September 30th, 2020 | Story


We know that animal source foods (ASFs) are an important source of nutrients. But how do we as practitioners know which of the various ASFs to promote in a particular context? This is a question that the USAID-funded Feed the Future Ethiopia Studying Animal Source Food Markets in Rural Areas (SAFIRA) team set out to answer in rural Tigray, Ethiopia.

To begin, we built on the work of experts. We know that there are five key domains that caregivers consider when deciding what foods to purchase and feed to their infants: affordability, availability, desirability from the perspective of the infant, healthiness, and time to prepare (Pelto and Amar-Klemesu 2011). We planned to measure caregivers’ perceptions of these five domains across ASFs and triangulate their perceptions with observations. With this in mind, we developed a card-sort exercise and a structured market observation guide.

The card-sort exercise

The card-sort exercise featured 92 cards with pictures and names of local foods. The Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa, a SAFIRA project partner based in Addis Ababa, selected the foods, sourced images depicting them, and field-tested the images to make sure that they resonated with community members. During the card-sorting exercise, a research assistant facilitated five rounds, by key domain. During each round, a group of fathers or mothers sorted the food shown on the card into one of three categories, as indicated below.

  1. Healthiness: Healthy for children 6–23 months | Somewhat healthy for children 6–23 months | Unhealthy for children 6–23 months.
  2. Desirability: Children 6-23 months like to eat it | Children 6–23 months sort of like to eat it | Children 6–23 months do not like to eat it.
  3. Affordability: It is affordable | It is somewhat affordable | It is expensive.
  4. Time to prepare: It takes no time to prepare before eating (can eat immediately) | It takes a little amount of time to prepare before eating | It takes a long time to prepare before eating.
  5. Availability: It is available locally | It is somewhat available locally | It is not available locally or hard to find.

From this exercise, we learned that meat and milk were unaffordable to caregivers in our context. For example, during the sorting exercise, one individual stated, “…Meat is also available if [we] have money.” Another stated, “Milk gets expensive. It should be moved [between piles] from somewhat affordable to expensive.” Caregivers were enthusiastic about eggs and ranked them the most affordable and available ASF.

JSI's SAFIRA project is working with nutrition experts to determine which animal source foods are better to promote in a particular context.
Market observation guide

The market observations reinforced the analysis from the card-sorting exercise and indicated which ASFs were available, and where and in what form they were sold. Market observation categories included:

  1. Access: This category documented whether there was a road to the marketplace, the quality of the road, and what type(s) of vehicles could access the marketplace.
  2. Infrastructure: This category documented accessibility within the market. For example, whether retailer stalls in the market were temporary or permanent and their cleanliness, whether there was access to electricity in the market, and types of processing equipment, if any.
  3. Products: This category documented what was sold within the market, with special attention to the type and forms of ASFs, and where within the market they were sold.
  4. Social interaction: This category documented who was visiting the market and how they interacted. For example, did people talk in the market? If so, who talked and where?

Our observations revealed that on the rare occasions that meat was available in markets, its quantity was limited. Although milk was available in communities, it was rarely sold in markets. Eggs, however, were available in local markets. Based on the card-sorting exercise and our market observations, we chose to promote eggs as the best ASF for infants in rural Tigray.

Next steps

These two methods were employed in SAFIRA’s first round of formative research conducted in June 2019. The second round of formative research was conducted in September 2019. This second round looked specifically at egg availability, consumption and marketing practices. From the findings collected in the second round, questions remain about how eggs are procured by households outside of a formal market structure and a third round of research is planned for late 2020/early 2021.

Feed the Future Ethiopia Studying Animal Source Foods in Rural Areas (SAFIRA) is a three-year cooperative agreement funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under Agreement No. 7200AA18CA00045, beginning September 30, 2018. SAFIRA is implemented by JSI, Inc. (JSI) with partners The Manoff Group, IFPRI, and OSSREA. The contents of this blog are the responsibility of SAFIRA and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States government. If you would like to learn more about the SAFIRA project, please visit our webpage.

Written by Sarah Delaney, Researcher

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