Agriculture is the major source of food, employment and income upon which the majority of humanity relies to provide for and support their livelihood. Given the high level of dependency of many of the world's poor and nutritionally vulnerable, the primary importance of the food and agriculture sector in improving household food security and alleviating and preventing malnutrition is clear.
Large numbers of people, especially the poor, are involved directly or indirectly in agricultural activities and derive multiple benefits arising from its multifunctional character. When agricultural development falters or fails in countries where no other fast growing sectors exist to employ people, the chances of the poor rising above the poverty level to play a full part in the economic development of their country is diminished. The agriculture sector therefore offers the greatest potential for achieving sustained improvements in household food security and individual nutritional wellbeing.
Consequently, attention needs to be given to increasing the production and consumption of food and ensuring that the poor have adequate access to adequate quantities of safe, good quality food for a nutritionally adequate diet. This includes not only energy, protein and fats but also micronutrients - the vitamins and minerals and other trace elements so necessary for normal growth and development.
Food-based interventions focus on food - natural, processed, fortified, or in combination - as the primary tool for improving the quality of the diet and for overcoming and preventing malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies. This approach recognises the essential role of food for good nutrition and the importance of the food and agricultural sector for supporting rural livelihoods. The basis of this approach is the involvement of the community and local government in the design, implementation, management, monitoring and evaluation of flexible programmes to increase the production and consumption of foods, especially those rich in micronutrients, as well as their absorption and utilisation in the body. Promoting home gardens is a key element in combating micronutrient deficiencies through the home production and consumption of appropriate foods.
In addition to the nutritional value of food, this approach also recognises the social significance of food and stresses the multiple benefits derived from enjoying a variety of foods. The approach encourages and equips people to consider their total diet in relation to their preferences, individual lifestyle factors, physiological requirements and physical activity levels. In so doing, it can contribute to physiological, mental and social development, enhance learning potential, reduce nutritional disorders and contribute to the prevention of diet-related diseases later in life.
Food-based, community-centred initiatives are being promoted by FAO using participatory appraisal and planning approaches that encourage and empower poor people to take an active role in designing and implementing such activities. National and local HFS and nutrition programmes and initiatives in several countries are being directly supported to improve capacity and to develop and implement more effective strategies and actions. Innovative multi-disciplinary, community-based nutrition projects are underway in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zambia and being planned in Nigeria and Vietnam. The experiences in incorporating nutrition into such programmes are being applied to a number of other initiatives, most significantly in FAO's Special Programme for Food Security.