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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
a switch, they must start digesting foods of alien consistency and inferior quality. Moreover, they often must do this while battling new and numerous intestinal infections introduced through unclean hands and utensils as well as through inadequate cooking.
This situation constitutes the gravest emergency facing children today. As UNICEF's executive director, James P. Grant, has pointed out: "The period of weaning, during which a young child becomes accustomed to the change from a diet consisting solely of his or her mother's milk, to one totally devoid of it, may take a year or more, and in much of the world this is perhaps the most dangerous period of the child's life. Many will not survive it. Of those that do, too many will be stunted in body, and perhaps in mind, and never be able to attain the full promise of their birth."
Today this hazard falls heaviest on Africa's children. Perhaps in the future centrally processed weaning foods will, as in North America, serve the children's needs. However, at present the cost of such products and the inability to distribute them throughout the rural regions makes this impractical. The only answer for the moment, then, is weaning foods that can be prepared either in the home itself or at least in nearby locations in the rural districts.
Given the extent of present malnutrition, one could be forgiven for concluding that household weaning foods are an impossibility for rural Africa—that appropriate ingredients must be unavailable, or that the people cannot make foods appropriate for children. But a number of knowledgeable nutritionists and food technologists believe that bridging foods for the critical nutritional years of each new generation can indeed be produced locally and cheaply. And, in their view, it is the traditional native grains—sorghum and finger millet, in particular—that are the key to this vital and life-saving possibility.
The reason for this is unexpected but understandable.
Those who, in the past, blamed malnutrition exclusively on the lack of certain nutrients in the foods were largely wrong. The local cereal products are not as poor in nutrient quality as was (and is) generally claimed. Today's nutritionists increasingly blame the low quantity of solids (what they call the "nutrient density") in the foods used for feeding the very young.
Africa's traditional weaning foods are watery gruels based on boiled cereal. These may have the right consistency for a child whose sole diet has been milk, but they are just too dilute. A gruel whose consistency is acceptable to a one-year-old contains merely one-third the food energy of a typical Western weaning diet. A child simply cannot consume enough to meet its energy and other nutrient requirements. Even when stuffed with gruel to its limit, a small stomach contains too little solid to keep its owner fed for very long. And most