Nutrition Sensitive Value Chains

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A food value chain is: the full range of farms and firms and their successive coordinated value-adding activities that produce particular raw agricultural materials and transform them into particular food products that are sold to final consumers and disposed of after use (FAO, 2000). The functioning of food value chains is essential for the availability and accessibility of good quality and nutritious food, which is a prerequisite for nutrition sensitive interventions to succeed.

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Nutrition sensitive refers to addressing the underlying determinants of nutrition. According to the World Bank, these underlying determinants include adequate access to food, healthy environments, adequate health services and care practices. In their turn these are determined by the distribution of wealth and resources, which can be extremely unequal. As a result it might happen that those who work the land and produce the food experience hunger and discrimination.

Nutrition sensitive interventions involve multiple sectors (agriculture, health, social protection, education, water supply plus sanitation) and include clear nutrition objectives. In particular, objectives that enable communities to achieve food and nutrition security. In several of the definitions of nutrition sensitive development, it is stressed that it will only contribute to improved nutrition when these objectives are included and supported by (national) government policies. Only governments can directly influence relevant areas for legislation. In addition, governments could pro-actively implement and/or support programs that directly contribute to nutrition improvement among target groups.

In the case of nutrition sensitive value chains, crucial elements are women's empowerment and awareness raising on nutrition, explaining the importance of healthy food throughout the lifecycle. For more details refer to Nutrition Education - Design. A practical toolkit on how to integrate a gender perspective in agricultural value chains, can be found here: AgriProFocus.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggests the following set of 9 principles for the development of Nutrition-sensitive/enhanced value-chains, taking into account the benefits of applying value-chain concepts, as well as the very real limitations.

1. Start with explicit outcome oriented nutritional goals. For example: increase the supply of nutritious foods that is accessible to the poor all year round.
2. Clearly define the nutrition problem. Identify the nutrient and food gaps, for example through conducting food consumption or dietary surveys. Value chain approaches are not inconsistent with total diet or systems-based approaches when the starting point is identifying the core food and nutrient gaps and associated health problems.
3. Beside considering economic value, the value for nutrition should be considered. It is possible to increase economic value for vulnerable value-chain actors with increased value for nutrition.
4. The search for solutions should take the whole value chain into account; the application of solutions should be tailored to circumstances. Five categories of actions:

a. Information, awareness building, education and behavioral change communication
b. Research and technology (for example on pre- and post-harvest effects on nutrient quality)
c. Reorganization (for example: formation of farmer groups or introduction of a new government structure)
d. Changes in costs, financial incentives and investments (in infrastructure, technology)
e. Development of policies and standards (certification, adoption of food-quality standards)

5. Focus on the functioning and coordination of the whole chain in order to create sustainable solutions. For example: interventions at several points along the chain to enhance coordination of the whole chain, or a small number of actions to fix the problem and create incentives for changes to be made elsewhere in the chain. Form alliances between different actors involved, although this might bring challenges.
6. Value should not only be added for the consumer (nutrition), but also for other actors in the value chain. Nutrition should become a solution to the problem faced by other sectors as well, thus adding value for all sectors.
7. Adding economic value for producers is often synonymous with making the product more expensive for the consumer, creating a tension between higher prices desired by producers and lower ones affordable for poor consumers. If the intervention adopts a consumer-oriented notion of value, willingness to pay may actually increase as products offer new attributes (such as nutritional value) even among poor people. Moreover, value chain development doesn’t necessarily have to imply the provision of a less affordable product.
8. Value chain development is linking producers to markets in which there is demand. In the case of cash crops such as coffee and cocoa, a broader look at the (local) food system is needed to ensure availability and accessibility of nutritious food for producers. Applying value-chain concepts to nutrition should take a broad approach to demand, by including unmet and uncreated demand from consumers, not just existing demand. Understanding the constraints to meeting demand. Sometimes, demand needs to be created (education, marketing).
9. Create a policy environment in which better nutrition is valued. Developing value chains for nutrition, will be successful at a broader scale, however, only if the policy environment creates incentives for the actors in the chain to value nutrition and change their behavior accordingly. Incentives for all chain actors, to lead to sustainable change.


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