Half the country’s children are so chronically malnourished they grow up stunted – too small for their age – damaging their bodies and their minds

The children of Ambohijafy, a rural village among the green valleys and sloping hills of Madagascar’s fertile central highlands, are some of the poorest in the world, but they dream of rising above their circumstances. Outside the huddle of thatched mud huts, Rakotonirina, a solemn 10-year-old whose father is a fisherman, loves to read books and wants to be a schoolteacher. Twins Rosel and Michel Roland, seven, don’t want to follow their father into farming. One would like to be a soldier, while the other talks of being a doctor.

But in Madagascar, where half the country’s children are so chronically malnourished they grow up too small for their age – a condition known as stunting – the odds against these children making it to secondary school, let alone managing an intellectually or physically challenging job, are vertiginous. Research shows that if a child is stunted by the age of two, the damage to their young minds and bodies is virtually irreversible.

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