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2. The Ethiopian Nutrition Institute (ENI)

Some historical documents stated that, previous to 1950’s, only little was known about Nutrition in Ethiopia. However, in the early 1960’s there been some discussion on malnutrition by some concerned health professionals and health related agencies. It was clearly understood that malnutrition in the form of under nutrition was one of the contributor causes to underdevelopment in Ethiopia like in any other third world country.

To overcome this problem of malnutrition, many discussion and conferences were carried out, the result of which was a recommendation for a national nutrition survey. Since Ethiopia had neither the finance and logistics, nor the experience and expertise in this matter, an external agency known as the Interdepartmental committee on Nutrition for National Defense (ICNND) from the USA, was given the task to execute this survey. ICNND carried out surveys from September- December 1959 and produced figures and facts of malnutrition for the 1959 confrence. Following this conference there was a recommendation for establishment of a “Nutrition unit” under the Ministry of Health.

In 1962, an agreement was signed between the Ethiopian and Sweden Governments for the establishing the children’s Nutrition unit (CNU) in Ethiopia in the former prince Tsehay Hospital (now Armed Forces Hospital), in 1968. CNU was renamed as the Ethiopian Nutrition Institute (ENI). As the same time it was agreed that the Ethiopian government would successfully take over the institute from foreign experts. The change in the name of the Institute indicated also a wider scope of activities in the work of improving nutrition in the country, with the inclusion of groups other than children, e.g. pregnant and lactating women, school children, other adult groups etc.

In the years 1962-68, the plan of agreement envisaged several tasks among which the following were the main ones:-

a. Conducting nutritional status surveys based on age, sex and socio-economic relationships;
b. Conducting dietary surveys of different communities and families;
c. Enrichment of food items that were already known by the community;
d. Dissemination of nutrition education and training.

Following this, the unit expanded its scope of activity and responsibility and at the same time an Ethio-Swedish agreement was reached for a second five term, lasting up to 1973.

In 1973 famine in the country totally altered the aims and objectives of the Institute and the scope of its activities as well.

Faced with this unexpected disaster, the Institute started to reorganize itself and execute its function. Of course, priority was given to the drought and famine. It deployed “flying – squads” to perform survey/surveillance activities in the drought affected areas of the then wollo , Tigrai, Hararghie, Bale, Sidamo, Keffa, and laid the foundation for an emergency relief program. Feeding shelters were simultaneously set up and run by these ENI squads, who at the same time conducted quick “tailor – made” training of contract employees for the feeding programs in the different shelters.

The drought triggered the need for more supplementary food and the ENI started to develop new products under the brand name Dubie and Edget. These two types of supplementary foods together with the other products diversified and increased the whole supplementary food production to an industrial scale and by 1976; the production sector was transferred to the Ministry of Industry.

As the drought expanded, the survey/surveillance program continued, on all aspects of nutrition such as agriculture, water health, climate, migration, etc. The data so obtained served not only for action Programs but also created what was known as the Early Warning System (EWS.) The ENI was the Relief Agency of the time. To strengthen this EWS, the ENI contacted concerned agencies and expanded the activity of EWS. In the later stages efforts ware made strengthening the ENI’s capacity.

This phase of transition occurred between 1974 and 1978 which was the third phase of the Institute’s development. Field studies were conducted on the epidemic of Lathyrism in Denbia and Fogera Awrajas of Gondar region and appropriate recommendation on intervention was given. Extensive studies were conducted in the fields of Vitamin A and Iodine deficiency, Sorghum utilization, fermented foods etc.

In the last phase 1979-1983, Swedish assistance took the form of project funding and gradually phased out. All running costs were started being covered by the Ethiopian Government.

This period marked the continuation of planning and consolidation on training aspect, much emphasis was given to manpower development of the Institute. A lot of research activities were carried out and tangible intervention programmed were executed on the basis of priority needs of the country. Contacts with internal agencies like the Addis Ababa University and external institution like the University of Manitoba on research and manpower development were conducted. In the latter stages efforts were made in strengthening the ENI’s capability that includes library up grade, computer facilitation for data processing, incorporation of a food technology centre and development of printing unit was. To this end, there appeared a major transformation in the over all structure and functional state of the Institute.

Generally the ENI has played a major role in nutrition intervention in Ethiopia. However, the bulk of its energies having been devoted to intervention programs, it has failed to make significant studies in research activities, so the issue of remodeling its objectives and redefine its structure based on the existing nutritional problems of the country was mandatory.