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Contributions for Making agriculture work for nutrition: Prioritizing country-level action, research and support

FSN Forum Team FAO, Italy
03.10.2012
FSN Forum

Posted on behalf of Seema Prakash, Ashoka Fellow, India

We work with a particular tribe called Korku in Madhya Pradesh (INDIA).

Since couple of decades they have been gradually divorcing their traditional tribal millets and crops in favor of cash crops like soybean and wheat and cotton. Ironically they grow soybean but is not a part of their food culture. The tribal millets like Kodo (paspalum scrobiculatum) and Kutki (little millet) and Sawa (Indian barnyard millet) have been going out of vogue and generating a widespread lack of essential micronutrients and manifesting in large numbers of children malnourished. The recent surveys show nearly 60% children below 5 years being underweight,  45% stunted and 30% wasted. The situation has remained chronic. Secondly Korku tribe settled from their hunter-gatherer life quite late at the end of the nineteenth century. With restriction on hunting and their divorce from wild yams and tubers have further compounded the issue.

The government policy is not titled to promote it or bring it in their Public Distribution system.

Serious research is needed to ascertain the los this has brought to community nutrition and established chronic food insecurity among Korku and also many other tribes in Central and Northern India.

Seema Prakash

ASHOKA FELLOW

Khandwa

Madhya Pradesh

INDIA

Eutropia Mwasha Agricultural Sector Expert , Grenada
03.10.2012
Eutropia

Agriculture is the basis for “food” but for the food to be nutritionally meaningful for consumers it must meet the critical nutritional levels for a healthy life. Countries have different backgrounds that define the agricultural system that impact on nutritional value of what is produced. Looking at the different stages on how agriculture can work for nutrition from production in the field, processing, distribution, cooking and trade, have effect on nutrition. These processes are hugely varied from one culture to another, geographic position as well as socio-economic status of a country. It is a complex subject that demands thoughtful action from grassroots, national and international levels involving more than the one discipline.
To make agriculture work for nutrition, the natural resource base which is highly linked to agriculture and nutrition, the soil especially must be preserved, protected and enhanced. Healthy soils guarantee the sustainable production of healthy foods and vice versa. It is necessary to adopt good agricultural practices to maintain healthy soils.
Biodiversity is fundamental for sustained food production of quality nutrition. Biodiversity should be viewed in the total perceptiveness not just the crops or domestic livestock conventionally known for food. Research and education are necessary in capturing and disseminating new knowledge and technology respectively.
Agricultural researchers especially in developing countries need to be more articulate in understanding local conditions as affected by challenges such as global warming, trade and individual national policy development processes. Extension service providers likewise need to be updated in a timely manner on how to cope with the challenges arising at local levels. Extension services focusing on nutrition should be multi-disciplinary involving agriculturalists, health and community experts, etc.
However, nutrition can be negatively affected by situations such as culture, food preferences and income changes. Some cultures prohibit consumption of certain foods in the community or on specific group members, based on gender. Food preferences based on taste can lead to consuming excessive foodstuffs that are health threatening.  When incomes increase, there is a tendency to consume more expensive types of foods but not necessarily healthier.  
In conclusion, to make agriculture work for nutrition, this demands comprehensive analysis of all aspects and players in the various disciplines in terms of administration, political, trade, education, health, environment and information technology. These should all be viewed in the context of grassroots, national and international levels.

Eutropia Mwasha (Tanzanian in Grenada, West Indies)
 

03.10.2012
Final Year Economics Students (group 3)

Greetings all,

In addition to our earlier post, we have a little more to contribute , as it relates to Question two (which basically talks of "where we would like to see more research done and why?")

Generally speaking:

1) Research can be conducted to find replacement plans for pesticides that may contain harmful ingredients to human, animal and aquatic life. New strategies can be developed for pest control practices and available training for farmers on how to do same, as well as training for  things like land use, growing practices, soil fertility etc.
     
2) Most countries may have a huge problem of where the people prefer imported products; therefore, more research should be conducted so as to devise a plan/strategy to promote the consumption of locally produced agricultural food.
     
3) Research or more attention should be emphasized on reducing food losses (this point refers directly to post harvest wastage) given the fact that a lot of resources are used to produce nutritional agricultural products; “it should not be thrown away!” This can be seen in many developed countries and we know for a fact that many people elsewhere can use the “excess food supply” (what the wastage is sometimes referred to).
     
4) There should be a direct involvement of producers/farmers, users/consumers in conducting and monitoring research activities; more specific emphasis should be placed on the producer’s/farmers concerns.
     
5) In concluding, research can also be conducted by countries who do not have the information on how the processing/production of locally produced goods; be it fruits, fish, meat or vegetables, etc. can act as the foundation for a more sound economy that can “MAKE AGRICULUTRE WORK FOR NUTRITION BY PRIORITIZING COUNTRY-LEVEL ACTION, RESEARCH AND SUPPORT”.

We Thank You!
 

Final Year Economics Students (group 4)

What can our institutions do to help country governments commit to action around your recommendations, and to help ensure implementation will be effective?

To finalize our contribution to this discussion we provide the following ideas on the above stated question :

1. Establish and sustain an assessment or evaluation initiative where crucial agricultural programmes and projects will be evaluated under the supervision of technical and politically neutral experts.

2. Maintain systems of pledging accordance by developing nations, to the targets and milestones that are established by respective policies for nutrition enhancement

A system for incentivizing target achievement will surely encourage governments to commit to action. This involves the benefits that country governments can gain both politically and effectively in terms of their efforts to further the development cause in their respective nations.

3. Effective target oriented financial aid

This is especially useful in situations where projects are well designed but lack the necessary finance to be implemented.

4. Actively participate in the sharing of skills (more specifically, training) and technical expertise.

5. Enhanced communication and interaction between your institutions and the local agencies that are actually involved in the implementation phases of policies may help to bring about a positive response from country governments. The intimacy between policy makers and implementation agents can make for effective agricultural policy, and can signal to governments that your institutions are serious about effecting their mandates.

This final point about communication and intimacy between far reaching institutions and local agencies is also relevant to all the points we outlined above since many of the ideas proposed above rest on a closeness that needs to exist between the two types of entity for the purposes of informational accuracy; effective public relations and diplomacy; and mutual compliance with objectives of programmes.  

We thank the moderators and all those who have contributed to the discussion for their continued involvement and support. We will definitely make efforts to improve the value of our future contributions to the forum .       

03.10.2012
Final Year Economics Students (group 1)

Question 2 - To support the design and implementation of this programme, where would you like to see more research done, and why?

In keeping with the initiatives of our last post and a general perspective, we believe that research should be emphasized in the following areas:

In order to make agriculture work for nutrition (and in part facilitate the design and implementation of this programme) more research should be done at national level on mechanisms of adapting to a transforming agricultural world (especially for LDC’s) with special emphasis on maximizing nutritional impact. This should be done so as to ascertain the most effective method of adapting modernized efforts in agriculture. In our opinion, the small holder farmers must be taken into consideration in any adaptation process so that their needs can better shape agricultural innovation.

A more formative research should be done on “Effective Techniques of Communicating the importance of nutrition given certain social and cultural constraints”. Since a person’s eating habits are embedded in their beliefs, norms, habits and tradition, the research can focus primarily on the behaviours, attitudes and practices of a community, and understand the target group’s perspective, as this will help deliver effective results in terms of increasing their nutritional intake. Additionally, understanding what influences the target group’s behaviour and the barriers and opportunities to change behaviour one can decide the best ways to promote nutrition and change people’s eating habits.

03.10.2012
Final Year Economics Students (group 6)

Dear Moderator,

Kudos to everyone who comment so far, there has been a torrent of solutions. This has made it especially difficult to generate novel ideas. Nevertheless we chose to look at this problem from a different facet of the diamond; therefore we have decided to look at the problem through the eyes of the consumers.

If you were designing an agricultural investment programme, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?

1.     Assessing the needs of the population.

Every population is unique in its own entirety, some are large some small, some are aging while others are young. Therefore the first things we would do when implementing a nutritional programme is to assess the age of the population in question, from that proper nutritional needs of the population can be address since different age group requires different level of nutrition. we also need to address the consumption patterns of the population what are we consuming too much of and what are we consuming too little of, even if the data for consumption in a particular country or region is limited it is safe to assume what is being produce in abundance in a particular region that is what is being consume. This situation is most prevalent in the developing or poor countries like Guyana.

2. Sensitizing household food preparation

Food preparation is unique amount people of different cultural or traditional background for example in Guyana the same dish is prepared differently amount different ethnic group. Some of these traditional methods of preparation are unknowingly diminishing the nutritional content of the dish being prepared. For example in Guyana the overcooking and undercooking of food is prevalent in households. This is one of the major reasons why we would sensitize the population on preparation of proper household cooking methods.

 

3. Informing the public about the benefits of healthy eating

We have to ask ourselves why is eating healthy eating important.

Even though the ideology that healthy eating is good for us is widely known, little or no thought is put into the benefits or how detrimental our consumption habits could be on our body especially in the long run. Therefore we recommend that fundamental ideas be put forward like eating for tomorrow and not just for today promoting a longer life span.

4. Decentralization of the supply channel of perishable produce.

The supply of nutritional produce is not one of question, because if we don’t produce how can we eat healthy to get nutrient. But getting the produce to those who need it can be limited by distance and other environmental factors. So therefore we would decentralize our distribution channel of perishable produce especially in remote areas, rather than having the product produce at one central location. This would reduce the risks of nutritional values being loss during transportation; in addition to that the accessibility of the produce will be increase since it is being provided at a closer location. This could also aid in the problem of over and under consumption of vitamins dues to availability of produce that contains the necessary vitamins. For example in Guyana rural citizens normally consume what is available because of the limited availability of different agricultural produce which is mostly available in the main town.

5. Packaging

Packaging is very important to the supply chain, not only to hold the produce but to preserve the shelf life and retain the nutritional content of what is being package.  In addition to that we would place the nutritional content of the produce on the package. This would inform consumers of what they are consuming, the exact nutritional content of the produce. In addition to that this method we would like to capture the busier portion of the population, those who don’t have the time to cook a nutritional household meal. We would create a product that is rich in the basic nutrition needed for daily consumption like the Gerber single for adults; package in a comfortable an attractive manner. Taken into to account the main focus is to provide our population with nutrition and not profit, the best interest would be as such avoiding the mistakes made by Gerber adult single since they produce in an operational efficient manner for them not for the market “Harvard business review why big companies can innovate”.

 

03.10.2012
Final Year Economics Students (group 5)

Dear Moderator and fellow Contributors, your comments has been very interesting and insightful on the present discussion thus far. We would like to make our contribution to question 1:

1. If you were designing an agriculture investment programme, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?

In maximizing the impact of nutrition in an agricultural investment programme the following aspects needs to be addressed:

  1. An assessment of the current status of nutritional requirement of the population in order to determine the areas that are lacking and by how much. This would provide the information needed to determine the nutritional objectives of the programme with respect to change in climate and its impact on developing countries.
  2. Education by providing awareness and sensitizing citizens about the emphasis that should be placed on nutrition. Women being the care takers of homes should primarily be of focus, this factor is important in improving nutrition, since women play a unique role in the significance for households nutritional outcomes. The choices that women make are found to be more committed to an investment in their children’s health and well being rather than men. Suppliers and producers themselves need to be educated about how to improve the quality of products. In the sensitizing aspect of a nutritional programme technology and more specifically the media plays a major role in the dispersion of information to those who need it. And to encourage behavioral or attitudinal changes through nutrition education to promote the consumption of healthier diets.
  3. Foster institutional collaboration at every stage of production aimed at improving communication, interaction and providing resources to facilitate national sovereignty. By creating an atmosphere for producers at all stages of production to discuss the innovations in the agricultural sector and available resources and technology to improve product quality and output.
  4. Introduce closely monitoring programmes and extensive documentation of activities and results attributable to each activity. Identify potential food safety and security issues - such as contamination, destruction of crops or animals due to severe weather or pest outbreak - and develop a plan for the alleviation of such issues. (food quality). Having an evaluation teams that will set regulations and will ensure that products meet a predetermined recognized hygiene and safety requirement to produce crops of the best nutrition possible.
  5. Improve accessibility both logistically and financially to the targeted group. An increase in accessibility and of nutritional food in rural and urban areas. Ideally making food vouchers available to the lower income households and specifically to those families below the poverty line to ensure each person’s nutritional needs are met. 

2. To support the design and implementation of this programme, where would you like to see more research done, and why?

Research into new approaches of biofortification is needed in the fight against malnutrition and hunger.

In most developing countries the average diet of the poor usually consists primarily of lesser nutritious foods – staple food crops – such as rice and wheat, cassava and maize/corn. These diets result in micro-nutritional deficiencies of vitamin A, iron and zinc. By undertaking research into the best traditional breeding practices using the latest in modern biotechnology, developing countries can efficiently produce staple food crops with a higher micro-nutritional value which would effectively address some of the nutritional issues of the targeted group(s). Biofortified crops also help to promote food safety since the added trace minerals may prove essential in helping plants resist diseases which would otherwise have been treated with potentially harmful chemicals.

Also, mineral packed seeds have exhibited a higher proportion of survival as well as more rapid initial growth. The culmination of these two effects will translate to higher yields in the selected crops. This essential increase in agricultural productivity can help to promote sustainable agricultural practices aimed at meeting the nutritional objectives of the programme.   

02.10.2012
Final Year Economics Students (group 2)

In recent years, the focus among many international food, health and agricultural organizations has been on nutrition and its link to agriculture. With billions of people continuously suffering from lack of food security and malnutrition, these entities have recognized the vital role agriculture plays “as a supplier of food, a source of income, and an engine for growth to sustainably reduce malnutrition and ill-health for the world’s most vulnerable people.” (Agriculture, Nutrition, and Health: Connecting the Dots, 2011 Global Food Policy Report)

 

1.     If you were designing an agricultural investment programme, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?

a.      Firstly, it is recommended that an educational programme on nutrition be implemented in order to facilitate people’s voluntary intake of healthier food alternatives. This task can be accomplished through a combination of educational approaches, such as awareness campaigns, agro-food and nutrition workshops, and school visits. At the end of such programme, persons should be better equipped with the knowledge of improving food safety, choosing and consuming locally produced and nutrient-dense foods, understanding the nutritional requirements of different family members, etc. This will enable them to lead a healthier lifestyle where they can make better informed decisions for themselves and family members when it comes to their dietary intake.

b.     Increase production and market access of nutrient-dense foods to both urban and rural populace – Having succeeded in encouraging persons to lead a healthier lifestyle, we are now faced with increased demands for non-staple foods with high nutritious values, such as fruits and vegetables, in order to prevent or minimize the risk of micronutrient deficiencies. Therefore, increased production of locally-adapted nutrient-dense foods is highly recommended. However, this is insufficient to guarantee that everyone has access to such foods, unless proper infrastructure exists in order to meet the demands of the newly health-conscious population.

c.      Promoting organic agricultural production as it addresses regional challenges such as environmental, cultural and economic sustainability, health and food security. Most importantly, organic farming is seen as an eco-friendly approach that sustains the health of soils by using natural means of fertilizers which do not contain agrochemicals residues thereby, improving the nutritional intake of the crops. Organic production also relies on techniques such as crop rotationgreen manurecompost and biological pest control

d.     Promoting sustainable farming practices that are eco-friendly to avoid soil erosion of arable land which often times leads to lower crop yields, reduced income to farmers, shortages of nutrient-dense foods. If these concerns are not met it may lead to under nutrition especially in rural poor communities. Therefore, this calls for proper and effective management of natural resources which can result in soil fertility, crop rotation, greater productivity, improved adjustments to climate change, etc.

e.      Developing, as appropriate, a mechanism within which to monitor and evaluate the level of success/failure in improving nutrition through agriculture, for instance, creating the capacity for overlooking the environmental quality and health status of the population. Here research, monitoring and evaluation will be continuously conducted in order to facilitate changing conditions along the investment programme with an intended nutritional impact.

2.     To support the design and implementation of this programme, where would you like to see more research done, and why?

The literature on the need for effective institutions is endless. Nevertheless, even with the rationale out there we still have poor institutional framework in many nations. So the question remains, why is it that we continue to experience poor policy outcomes and shambled institutions in this age of information superhighway. It is believed that within Guyana this comes about because of the applicability of these models to our economy. Therefore, more research can be done on the political and social constraints within Guyana and countries of similar structure to formulate resolutions for existing poor institutional framework. Only then would we be able to see effective implementation of these programmes to achieve their fullest capacity in terms of maximizing its impact on nutrition.

3.     What can our institutions do to help country governments commit to action around your recommendations, and to help ensure implementation will be effective?

a.      Information asymmetry continues to be a huge issue. International institutions can continue to help by providing easy access to necessary information and reports since often times, poor policy responses are linked to inadequate information base.

b.     Consider the possibility of co-integration of the programme with other similar ongoing programmes, and also deeper engagement with the private sector and other value-chain actors; for a bigger pool of resources and a more drastic outcome.

Mr. Subhash Mehta Devarao Shivaram Trust, India
02.10.2012
Subhash

Could correcting harms of current policies or approaches be just as important, if not more so, as capturing new opportunities to make agriculture work better for nutrition? 

Rural farm-based livelihood policies - key to achieving economic growth and FTF with nutritious food:

—Natural resources for  nutrition and health

—Access to resources through soil, water, and biodiversity conservation

—Produce/improve nutrition through low cost integrated agriculture

—Depended on locally adapted breeds, varieties and species

—Recycling  of agriculture waste for soil fertility (on farm inputs)

—Value addition (drying, processing to increase shelf life)

—Little or no post harvest losses

—Livestock & fisheries

—Bartering for access to healthy nutritious food

Quotes from numerous consultation processes I have participated to support:

Strategy on sustainable integrated agriculture was developed through a wide consultation process, involving all concerned stakeholders, is now mostly targeting poor smallholder producers, family farms and in particular womenPolicies to be ‘demand-driven’ and ‘participatory’ and in the short term, to take new technologies to poor smallholder producers, which they can use and help governments make better policy

(DFID & EIARD consultation process)     

‘sustainable integrated agriculture’, in ways that measurably and demonstrably improves the lives of the rural smallholder producers, world’s most vulnerable people.

The FTF program is working with this in mind to develop IAR4D to ‘reenergize and reorient’ and in positive ways, to grow safe and  nutritious food to FTF.

Success will require integration of programs on the ground, undertaking the complex challenges that lie ahead, taking bold and swift action, coupled with a willingness to pursue out of the box ideas of the type pursued by successful farmers and bearing fruit in the short term, season after season, from displays of  leadership, built on a willingness to listen, to learn, and to collaborate with all stakeholders and as equal partners.

(USAID FTF Consultation Process)

Public policy and funding is now mostly targeting meeting the nutritious food needs of poor smallholder producers, family farms and in particular women, with priority for IAR4D policies to follow sustainable  integrated agriculture, to be ‘ demand-driven’ , ‘participatory’ and in the ‘short term’.  

USAID, UN (IFAD, etc.), DFID, EIARD, Etc.

“One-and-a-half billion low income people live in countries  affected by fragility and conflict. None of them are on track to achieve even a single MDG,” “Growth and development have to be inclusive, ensuring that their benefits are broadly shared,” “These countries need a World Bank that is far more responsive than it is today, and capable of delivering the right financial and technical support at the right time”

World Bank President Kim 

“Government funding and programs demand they actually  benefit the marginal, resource poor and vulnerable populations, and thus require mechanisms of accountability”

(Rajiv Shah, Administrator, USAID).

“I take this message to the G20 ministers on behalf of the smallholder farmers around the world:  The development of rural areas is central to overcoming hunger and poverty, mitigating climate change, achieving energy security and protecting the environment, and it is the smallholder farmer that holds the key. But we must seriously start investing in their potential to support them to deliver,”

 Nwanze said (IFAD President)

“Rio+20 has delivered a pretty good text for farmers; now it’s up to governments and agencies to act on these words, and put into place the financial commitments and practical policies that can truly deliver”,  “Sustainable agriculture, food security and smallholder farmers are now formally part of that equation’ and the “Recognition of smallholders as key stakeholders”.

Vanessa Meadu, CG Climate Change Agriculture Food Security (CCAFS)

Moira Beery Siyakhana Initiative, South Africa
02.10.2012
Moira Beery

1. If you were designing an agricultural investment programme, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?

Greater focus needs to be put on aspects of food insecurity other than availability - too often food security interventions focus only on agricultural production. A much greater focus on linking food to needy communities and focusing on proper utilization in required. Five suggestions are: 1) In the area of agricultural production, a greater focus is needed on skills transfer than than on technology and land access. We find that too often under-prepared farmers are given access to land and tools but not to the farming and business skills and mentoring required to run a successful farm business. Farming is not an innate skillset, and education and training need to respond to this and better prepare farmers to care for land and soil, and maintin the business aspects of the farm. 2) Facilitate access to foods, particularly nutritious whole grains, fruits, and vegetables through small and medium sized markets. Ensure that emerging farmers have appropriately scaled markets into which they can sell product and that customers overlooked by traditional commercial retailers can access. 3) Make meals, not just raw ingredients available to food insecure people. It is unrealistic to assume that all people have the knowledge, interest, time, space, and equipment required to make nutritious meals. Meal programmes in schools, community restaurants, and other food support such as parcels must be made available. These types of access points also serve as outlets for emerging farmers to sell their products. 4) Invest in crops that maximise nutritional content. If governments or agencies are investing in agricultural activities, they should incentivise highly nutrition foods over foods of low nutritional value. This can be achieved in part through crop choice, and also through healthy soils and organic soil care techniques. 5) Organic farming not only can achieve foods of higher nutrition, but the environmental health benefits of pesticide and chaimical fertiliser-free faming contribute to overall improved health and less of a reliance on costly outside inputs. 

2. To support the design and implementation of this programme, where would you like to see more research done, and why?

Low-cost farm-site cooling systems are needed for farmers in rural areas so that they make harvest and preserve sensitive fresh foods for market. Efficient ways of meal distribution, rather than just raw food distribution is needed. Research into micronutrients and how to maximize nutrition in foods through growing and preparing foods is needed. 

3. What can our institutions do to help country governments commit to action around your recommendations, and to help ensure implementation will be effective?

We can assist government in identifying needy communities and individuals where farming support and training is needed. Communities can best identify where markets or community restaurants should be located to best serve residents. Understanding of local foods and food preparation can help those in the nutrition community to suggest appropriate food changes to maximise nutrition