Community Assessment of Natural Food Sources of Vitamin A - Guidelines for an Ethnographic Protocol

Table of contents

Lauren Blum, Pertti J Pelto, Gretel H. Pelto, and Harriet V. Kuhnlein

A Project of the International
Union of Nutritional Sciences
Committee II-6,

Nutrition and Anthropology

Participating Committee Members:

H.V. Kuhnlein, Co-chair
I. Nieves, Co-chair
G.H. Pelto
R. Young
C. Santos-Acuin
P. Pushpamma
H. Creed-Kanashiro

Centre for Nutrition and the Environment of Indigenous Peoples (CINE) Macdonald Campus of McGill University 21,111 Lakeshore Road Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec Canada H9X 3V9 Telephone: (514) 398-7544 Fax: (514) 398-1020

The work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada


(c) Copyright 1997 International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries (INFDC)

Published jointly by the

International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries P.O. Box 500, Charles Street Station Boston, MA 02114-0500 USA

and the

International Development Research Centre
P.O. Box 8500
Ottawa, ON, Canada K1G 3H9

(c) Copyright 1997 International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries (INFDC)

The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this document do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries (INFDC) or the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city, or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The authors alone are responsible for the views expressed in this document.

INFDC ISBN 0-9635522-9-5
IDRC ISBN 0-88936-767-1

U.S. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) Data Applied for. Canadian Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) Data Applied for.

Cover Photography (clockwise from top left): Kitchen garden in Chamis, Peru, with ingredients for "caldo verde;" Conducting pile sort in Filingué, Niger; Street vendor in Cajamarca, Peru; Footpath to the Aeta village, Philippines, in rainy season; Market with leafy vegetables near Sheriguda, India.

Community Assessment of Natural Food Sources of Vitamin A

Guidelines for an Ethnographic Protocol

L. Blum, P.J. Pelto, G.H. Pelto, H. V. Kuhnlein

This practical step-by-step guide for conducting assessments in communities on the variations aspects of natural food sources of vitamin A will create data helpful for programs that aim to alleviate vitamin A deficiency. The manual, prepared in co-operation with the Committee on Nutrition and Anthropology of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences, describes how to set up and manage the assessment process, as well as how to gather the essential data.

Techniques are designed to answer key research questions on the local food system; availability of sources of vitamin a-rich food and its use by those at special risk (pregnant/lactating women, infants and young children); and cultural beliefs about food and the signs and symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. The manual is written in lay language and includes forms for data collection; it is designed for use by a field supervisor and two local research assistants in a 6-8 week research period.

The digitalization of this publication was made possible by a grant from the Nestlé Foundation


Background and acknowledgments


A. Users and purpose
B. Goals
C. Program benefits
D. Using this manual

Part one: The protocol

I. Context

A. The primary and secondary questions addressed by the protocol

1. What are the key foods (staples, fruits, vegetables, animal food, fats/oils)?
2. What are cultural beliefs about key foods?
3. What are patterns of food use?
4. How is food prepared and stored?
5. What are the signs and symptoms of vitamin A deficiency?
6. Are there other important issues?

B. Overview of design and timing

II. Steps in the protocol

A. Site selection
B. Historical, ecological, and cultural setting for the food system
C. Field activities

1. Key-informant interviews
2. Family food lists and selecting the key foods
3. Market survey 1 and 2
4. Constructing food system data tables
5. Structured interviews with mother-respondents
6. Research modules

D. Preparing the assessment report

Part two: Managing the project

III. Organizing

A. Personnel

1. Qualifications and training
2. Translation

B. Administrative preparation

1. Networks and interactions
2. Facilities, equipment, and supplies

IV. How to

A. Select key-informants and conduct key-informant interviews
B. Conduct a free list of foods

1. Creating the List
2. Expanding the list through observation
3. Analyzing the free list data

C. Select key foods
D. Identify food plant and animal species

1. Plant identifications
2. Animal identifications

E. Determine nutrient content of food
F. Select the sample of mother-respondents
G. Manage the data


Appendix 1: Examples of research site selection
Appendix 2: Checklist of important background information
Appendix 2A: Example of background information from the Aetas of Canawan, Morong District, Philippines
Appendix 3: Some reminders about data-gathering: Do's and don'ts
Appendix 4: Notes on working with key-informants
Appendix 5: Recording and organizing fieldnotes
Appendix 6: Notes on translation from local to national languages
Appendix 7: An example of selecting key food items from Peru
Appendix 8: Vitamin A content of foot
Appendix 9: Notes on selecting the field data-gathering team
Appendix 10: Selecting representative samples
Appendix 11: Notes on the credibility of these
Appendix 12: Comments on using microcomputers
Appendix 13: Glossary

Community assessment of natural food sources of vitamin a: guidelines for an ethnographic protocol