Agriculture for Improved Nutrition

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Since the food crisis in 2008, agriculture and nutrition are back on the international agenda. An important boost was given by the Lancet Series on maternal and child nutrition (2008 and 2013), the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and the Scaling Up Nutrition-movement (2010).

Despite subsequent world-wide increase of food availability, the number of undernourished people hardly decreased, staying far above the target of MDG 1. The need for intervention strategies at two different levels was identified: 1) direct or nutrition specific interventions that affect the immediate determinants of nutrition (food/nutrient intake and disease) and 2) nutrition-sensitive interventions that affect the underlying determinants of adequate nutrition, to which a major contributor is agriculture. In other words agricultural programs need to become more nutrition sensitive. This is taken up further in the 2014 Global Nutrition Report, which stresses that actions and accountability are crucial for accelerating the World’s Progress on Nutrition.

Recently, a broad consultative process took place with involvement of FAO, GGIAR, the World Bank, Harvest plus, and many more international as well as civil society organizations, in order to reach consensus on the way in which agriculture could contribute to improved nutrition. This resulted in the following set of key recommendations.

Key Recommendations for Improving Nutrition through Agriculture

The food and agriculture sector has the primary role in feeding people well by increasing availability, affordability, and access of diverse, safe, nutritious foods and diets, aligned with dietary recommendations and environmental sustainability.

Agricultural programs and investments can strengthen impact on nutrition if they:

  1. Incorporate explicit nutrition objectives and indicators into their design, and track and mitigate potential harms, while seeking synergies with economic, social and environmental objectives.
  2. Assess the context at the local level, to design appropriate activities to address the types and causes of malnutrition, including chronic or acute under nutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and obesity and chronic disease. Context assessment can include potential food resources, agro-ecology, seasonality of production and income, access to productive resources such as land, market opportunities and infrastructure, gender dynamics and roles, opportunities for collaboration with other sectors or programs, and local priorities.
  3. Target the vulnerable and improve equity through participation, access to resources, and decent employment. Vulnerable groups include smallholders, women, youth, the landless, urban dwellers, the unemployed.
  4. Collaborate and coordinate with other sectors (health, environment, social protection, labor, water and sanitation, education, energy) and programs, through joint strategies with common goals, to address concurrently the multiple underlying causes of malnutrition.
  5. Maintain or improve the natural resource base (water, soil, air, climate, biodiversity), critical to the livelihoods and resilience of vulnerable farmers and to sustainable food and nutrition security for all. Manage water resources in particular to reduce vector-borne illness and to ensure sustainable, safe household water sources.
  6. Empower women by ensuring access to productive resources, income opportunities, extension services and information, credit, labor and time-saving technologies (including energy and water services), and supporting their voice in personal, household, community, and specific farming decisions. Equitable opportunities to earn and learn should be compatible with safe pregnancy and young child feeding.
  7. Facilitate production diversification, and increase production of nutrient-dense crops and small-scale livestock (for example, horticultural products, legumes, livestock and fish at a small scale, underutilized crops, and bio fortified crops). Diversified production systems are important to vulnerable producers to enable resilience to climate and price shocks, more diverse food consumption, reduction of seasonal food and income fluctuations, and greater and more gender-equitable income generation.
  8. Improve processing, storage and preservation to retain nutritional value, shelf life, and food safety, to reduce seasonality of food insecurity and post-harvest losses, and to make healthy foods convenient to prepare.
  9. Expand markets and market access for vulnerable groups, particularly for marketing nutritious foods or products vulnerable groups have a comparative advantage in producing. This can include innovative promotion (such as marketing based on nutrient content), value addition, access to price information, and farmer associations.
  10. Incorporate nutrition promotion and education around food and sustainable food systems that builds on existing local knowledge, attitudes and practices. Nutrition knowledge can enhance the impact of production and income in rural households, especially important for women and young children, and can increase demand for nutritious foods in the general population.


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