Alaska Global Food Aid Program partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, a humanitarian organization with strong ties to Alaska, to test Alaska canned herring as a way to improve nutrition in several of their programs in Liberia. Test groups were chosen for their diversity in age (children vs. adults), demographics (urban vs. rural), and type (clinics, preschools, literacy programs, safety nets). Our nutrition team trained Samaritan’s Purse staff to conduct focus groups, distribute questionnaires, collect data, and conduct recipe development workshops combining the Alaska canned herring with local ingredients. Acceptability was assessed through surveys and interviews with participants, cooks, and parents of very young children.
During the nine-month pilot project, over 500 Liberians consumed 126,000 servings of Alaska canned herring, and its effects were significant. Half of malnourished participants showed improved nutrition status, and fewer participants were classified as severely, moderately, or mildly malnourished by the end of the project. Those who were HIV-positive saw the most significant improvements in nutrition. Of HIV-positive participants who were identified as malnourished, 80 percent improved, with 60 percent of them attaining normal status.
In addition to the nutritional benefits, providing the herring incentivized accessing and continued use of medical care by new and returning HIV patients. Study participants at the HIV Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center returned more often, spent more time there, and received more consistent care and counseling. Based on the pilot project, the herring should be consumed four times per week for greatest benefit.
Alaska canned herring was very well accepted (Liberians love fish); participants particularly appreciated easy inclusion in traditional recipes, easy storage, and perceived health benefits. The findings suggest that herring, a rich source of high-quality marine protein and essential omega-3 fats, should be considered instrumental for improving nutrition in the fight against HIV/AIDS and malnutrition. Its widespread appeal among Liberians of all ages suggests that canned seafood could easily be adopted in other countries, institutions, and food aid settings. Read more…