105 Aligning agriculture and food processing related policies to enhance healthy sustainable diets

Advancing the implementation of the ICN2 recommendations under the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition


  • World Health Organization
  • FAO (tbc)
  • Initiative for Food and Nutrition Security in Africa (IFNA) / Japan
  • NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency
  • Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)


Under the global umbrella of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025, coherent and innovative actions covering the entire food system  - from inputs and production, through processing, storage, transport and retailing to consumption  - are called for to ensure access to sustainable, healthy diets for all. Unhealthy diets are among the number one risk factor globally for deaths and disability. At the Second International Conference on Nutrition ICN2, countries committed to transform current food systems so that they can deliver the quality diets needed for combatting malnutrition in all its forms and achieving optimal health.
In recent decades, many low- and middle-income countries have undergone a drastic transition in diets and burden of disease. This includes a shift from consuming traditional diets often healthier and nutrient-rich, to a diet that is high in foods that have been transformed and processed in one way or the other, contributing to an increase in overweight, obesity and diet related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in all regions of the world.  Food processing itself is not necessarily unhealthy; it is the nature, extent and purpose of processing that is important in terms of nutritional and health consequences.
In several countries, food processing policies and programmes are targeting trans fats,  and sodium and sugar to reduce the burden of NCDs. This includes reformulating products that follow relevant nutrient facts and labelling standards, such as on salt, sugars, fats and trans fat content.  
On the other hand, many low-income countries are affected by the double burden of malnutrition and still suffer from low intake of key macro- and micro- nutrient elements, such as protein, iron and Vitamin A, which is believed to be a causal factor of key nutrition issues. The role of food processing and preservation is extremely significant for the stable availability of and access to food items rich in key nutrients both for the rural and urban population through the provision of enriched food items in a more industrialized manner.  This includes the promotion of increased use of traditional foods that are often neglected, to improve people's diets.

For food processing strategies to be impactful, they need to be part of the wider agriculture and food system transformation, centered around multi sectoral alignment (agriculture, food, nutrition and health policies) and multi-stakeholder engagement.
The planned event will present valuable country experience in the area of agriculture, food processing and transformation policies and programmes, addressing the different forms of malnutrition including undernutrition and overweight and obesity for increased nutrition outcomes. Moreover, the associated challenges faced by these policies and programmes will be discussed, a platform for interaction between CFS members will be provided to better understand the cross sectoral linkages for impactful policy and programme implementation.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Mario Arvelo, CFS Chair and Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the UN Rome-based Agencies
  • Kostas Stamoulis, Assistant Director-General, Economic and Development Department, FAO, Italy
  • Hideya Yamada, Vice President for Food, Agriculture and Nutrition, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)
  • Veronica Lorena Risso Patron, Coordinator, National Program of Healthy Eating and Prevention of Obesity, Ministry of Health and Social Development, Argentina
  • Mary Mwale, Initiative for Food and Nutrition Security in Africa (IFNA) Focal Point for Kenya and Principal Agricultural Officer; Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, Kenya
  • Dave VandenEinde, Global Research & Development Director, Cargill Global Edible Oil Solutions, USA
  • Bibi Giyose, Senior Officer Nutrition and Food Systems and Advisor to the CEO, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency, South Africa.
  • Moderator: Francesco Branca – Director Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, WHO

Main themes/issues discussed

Healthy diets are essential to fight malnutrition in all its forms. One action area of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition focuses on solutions to achieve sustainable, resilient food systems for healthy diets. This includes food processing and transformation measures that have the potential for supporting dietary, nutritional and health outcomes of food systems. Some progress in implementing nutrition actions at regional and country level has been made since the proclamation of the Nutrition Decade in 2016. Further progress will be assessed in an open and consultative process with Member States and their partners for the mid-term review of the Nutrition Decade.

Valuable contributions have been shared by the regional Initiative for Food and Nutrition Security in Africa (IFNA). IFNA was launched jointly by the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Kenya in August 2016 during the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) as a ten-year initiative until 2025. IFNA’s aim is to accelerate the implementation of food and nutrition security policies on the ground, with a view to contributing to a comprehensive improvement of malnutrition in Africa. IFNA focuses on the integration of the agriculture sector into nutrition interventions, and strengthens local level capacity to enhance sustainability and inclusiveness of nutritional improvements in accordance with country context.

Summary of key points

Kenya, as IFNA partnering country, and Argentina shared their experience with food processing related polices and measures:

Kenya introduced mandatory fortification of Flour, Sugar and vegetable oils/fats in 2012 to reduce micronutrient deficiencies (Fe, Zn, and Vit A ) and stunting. This initiative has resulted in significant reduction in stunting (26% reduction); and Iron and Vitamin A deficiencies (30%- 40% reduction). Moreover, the flour blending policy was introduced in 2018 under the Big-4 Agenda of the national 100% Food and Nutrition Security initiative in Kenya. Both policy measures aim to improve accessibility of nutrient dense foods for Kenyan’s citizens. Under the leadership of the government, both include partnerships of the government with private sector actors. Flour Millers responded positively to the food fortification and flour blending policy and are partnering with government. The flour blending Policy also stimulated acceptance of blended flours among rural and urban consumers, leading to increased production and income to farmers. Challenges faced include: the need for close monitoring of compliance of partners, shortages in production of blending ingredients, millet and sorghum, which impedes compliance capacity of partners, and increase in the cost of blended flour beyond reach for low income populations particularly in urban areas. Measures of micronutrient fortification should be complemented by development of blending standards and consumer education accordingly, and increased investments in the production and provision of diversified foods including fresh fruits and vegetables.

Argentina implemented an innovative approach to eliminate industrially produced trans-fatty acids (iTFA) from the food supply to reduce high rates of adult overweight, obesity and coronary heart disease. Under the leadership of central government, elements of success included: working across sectors (partnerships between agriculture and health ministries) and in cooperation with multiple-partners (Gov, civil society and industry, academia); adopting a mandatory approach to replace iTFA with healthier fats/oils such as sunflower oil and putting in place a cooperate agreement to improve the availability of healthy fats and oils at affordable prices; mandatory labelling on products, monitoring compliance; regional context support through the Trans-FAT Free Americas Declaration.
Campaigns were undertaken with civil society and consumer associations to help increase the compliance of the food industry to achieve the set targets for the elimination of iTFA in processed food products.

The speaker from Cargill Global Edible Oil Solutions, shared a food industry perspective, by outlining that Cargill developed solutions for reformulation of packed processed foods including reducing sodium, sugars, saturated and trans fats and increase whole grains and fiber in many foods and beverages consumed around the world. He stated the globally uneven but growing demand for improving the nutritional profiles of packaged & restaurant foods among Cargill’s customers. Despite proactively communicating with its customers about solutions for ingredient replacement, it remains challenging convincing the producers due to existing tradeoffs. Moreover, supply chains for provision of healthier ingredients need to be ensured. He concluded that it is important to address food reformulation from the lens of a system, and understand how the government, regulation, supply chain, suppliers, food producers and the consumer all are part of this system. The system needs to work together to achieve the goal of improving public health. 

Regional Agency Perspective was shared by the speaker from the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency. She underlined that high-level engagement, sensitization and targeted education with policy makers is imperative for real systemic transformation for improved nutrition. New actors are needed like the regional parliamentarian league – the Pan African Parliamentarian (PAP) Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition who is fully on board working with partners to address hunger and malnutrition in Africa.  The development of a Model Law is upcoming which will be adopted by all countries along the continental Nutrition Score Card for Africa.  She concluded that efforts need continue to strengthen advocacy, disseminate relevant essential messages; increase investment in nutrition agenda; close data and evidence gaps and support M&E and knowledge management. 

Key take away messages

  • Healthy diets are essential to fight malnutrition in all its forms, including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency and overweight and obesity and diet-related NCDs.
  • Effective food processing and transformation policies and measures need a systems perspective, with a holistic multi-sectoral approach and the collaboration with multiple partners, with clear role and separated responsibilities of the different actors.
  • Under the leadership of government, alignment across sectors and stakeholders is possible and care has to be taken that healthy diets and nutrition are part of the efforts. To make this happen multisectoral coordination is a key for success.
  • Interaction with private sector is important and there is the need for clear asks/demands on the private sector.  Private sector cannot be responsible for policy making but is an important actor and partner in implementation.
  • To create enabling food environments, it requires the system as a whole to incentivize the production and supply of healthier ingredients for processed foods and of diversified nutritious foods for healthy diets. 
  • Capacity building measures are essential. 
  • Regulatory frameworks require a level playing field and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities of all actors involved at different stages of the supply chain. Conflicts of interests need to be addressed in public-private partnerships for conducive and effective interaction.
CFS Side Event 105 - Aligning agriculture and food processing related policies to enhance healthy sustainable diets