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Re: HLPE consultation on the V0 draft of the Report: Investing in smallholder agriculture for food and nutrition security

Mr. Samuel Hauenstein - Swan Action Against Hunger | ACF International (ACF), United ...
17.01.2013
Samuel
Dear HLPE
 
Whilst the agricultural sector cannot create all preconditions for a healthy start in life – this is the joint task by the health, education, social protection sectors among others– smallholder investment must play a central foundation to enable the rural environment where by smallholders can strive to build the nutrition security for under-fives, mothers and thier households.
 
At ACF International we would like to see more specific proposition in respect to the specific nutritional requirements of under-fives, pregnant and lactating mothers within the small holder development discussion. 
 
Four areas we see need for improvement in the next drafts:
 
The role of smallholder agriculture in nutrition security needs to be more analytical and precise defined, draft 0 largely considers nutrition as an add-on to food security.
 
Often when the terms food and nutrition security are used in the text, there is little following mention of nutrition and it invariably refers only to food security- (for example in the summary, in the section on Smallholder Agriculture: the Way Ahead- past the initial assertion in paragraph 12 there are no further mentions in the section on nutrition, but only food security.) Food security and nutrition security should be two separate terms rather than merged as in current draft. By referring only to food security, there is the risk of the assumption that increased production for smallholders will automatically lead to better nutrition, which may lead to agricultural development programs that do not program adequately for improved nutrition as an outcome. Increased agricultural production can even cause possible harm to nutrition status (for instance where smallholder investment shift towards cash crop and thus reduce dietary diversity, women workload, diseases related to use of agro-chemicals).
We will where available cross reverence to some ACF examples and research that outline way how to program for nutrition impact.
Programming for nutrition impact means including it as an explicit objective of nutrition-related programs… 
 
Little mention of the significance of smallholder agriculture on nutrition at the individual and household level
 
There appears to be no section on the significance that smallholders can have for improvements to nutrition. It would seem to be relevant to include some information on this in section 2, in particular considering that there is a section included on smallholders significance for food security etc. but no thoughts given to the role of nutrition - more specifically the role in growing complementary food for children of 6 to 24 months. The report could highlight the available evidence that smallholder agricultural development leads to more effective food utilisation and dietary diversity. (We do however acknowledge that there needs to be further scientific research on the link between smallholder agriculture and nutrition, as clearly acknowledged in the last systematic review on the subject Masset. et all, 2011). 
Smallholder agriculture can increase food production, raise rural incomes, and push down food prices; all of which should improve the access of poor and vulnerable people to food and thereby contribute considerably to improving their food security. Smallholder agricultural interventions can be made more sensitive to nutrition in two key ways; by reducing female disadvantages in farming, for example poor access to inputs, seasonal credit and technical assistance, thereby increasing women’s returns from their farming, and through this giving them more opportunity to spend on the nutrition and care of their children — and themselves. The other is either to promote home gardens and small livestock keeping to encourage more diverse diets at the household level and especially under the control of the women, or to fortify staples with added minerals and vitamins such as Vitamin A through plant-breeding, or a combination of these two. 
 
ACF International has their own program evidence of the impact of small scale agriculture and complementary nutrition activities on nutrition and dietary diversity:
 
  • Health Gardens project in Mali (2010 evaluation): project which comprises the improvement of availability and access to high quality food through vegetable gardens, the increase of households’ incomes and the good use of food and incomes generated by the gardens for the improvement of the family and children’s health. Our evaluation found participants had more production from gardens; more income; were eating a more diverse diet; and that child malnutrition had fallen in participating villages
  •  
  • Low Input Gardens (LIG) project in Zimbabwe: The project evaluation found that participants in the project had better dietary diversity (higher HDDS scores than control groups) following the conclusion of the project as well as social impacts (greater acceptance of HIV/AIDS patients).
 
Seasonality
 
Following on from the above point, it seems important to include some discussion in the report on the effects of seasonal hunger and food availability, which is the reality for many smallholder farmers in low income countries. (Relevant to mention seasonality in section 4.2. Persistent poverty and lack of access to resources (as a constraint to smallholder investment).  It is well known that the poorest households – even those relying predominantly on small scale agriculture for their livelihoods – are reliant on the market to purchase food once their harvest runs out. It would be encouraging to read more in this HLPE report on interventions that aim to reduce the hunger gap by ways of food and seed storage, or how to reduce dependency on markets, especially during the hunger gap with interventions such as Inventory Guaranteed Credit Schemes (Warrantage), building storage solutions, affordable food processing on village level and the like to increase food and nutrition security during seasonal deprivation.
The gains made during the prosperous times of year are often negated by forced sales of assets and other coping mechanisms families are forced to undertake to survive during the hunger season. Seasonal changes in the local market can push vulnerable households closer to a threshold beyond which they cannot afford to cover their basic (qualitative and quantitative) dietary needs, eroding their resilience and preventing investment in their livelihoods. Many programmes fail to address seasonality of hunger and undernutrition… This could also be mentioned in 5.2.1., as methods to tackle seasonal hunger amongst smallholders could be a major way of improving their well-being and hence improving investment (for example pre-positioning of health and nutrition resources before the hunger season, employment guarantee schemes and cash transfers during the hunger season). The care giver should increasingly be educated on the dietary needs of growing children so that they can make the best choice for planting, selling, saving and purchasing food commodities throughout the annual cycle.
Recent ACF research emphasised the importance of designing food and nutrition security interventions around rural-urban linkages (migration during the hungry season to cities, and cash sent back from families in the city to rural relatives during this time) to help increase the impact of these interventions. These linkages are most important during seasonal periods of hunger and poverty. These linkages often represent efforts by the households to create their own safety nets, reflecting their own priorities and capacities. This report should point to ways and needs how to strengthen these self-generated safety nets linking rural smallholder with urban relatives and food markets to progress nutrition security.
 
Acknowledgement of the importance of nutrition interventions in under-fives and mothers.
 
As clearly reported in the paper, the health and well-being of individuals involved in smallholder agriculture clearly affects agriculture itself- an unhealthy agricultural population constrains resources and labour for investment. In section 5.2.1: ‘Access to rights: smallholders’ family needs for well-being.’ The first paragraph mentions the importance of strengthening the well-being of women and children for investment in smallholder agriculture. While the draft discusses action for school age girls and boys, its proposition in respect to under-fives within the small holder development discussion is unclear. Pregnant and lactating women, babies and children have heightened nutritional requirements, particularly between conception, complementary feeding phase and age two. Smallholder investment must therefore be planned and monitored in how far it is addressing these nutrition needs for children under five during ‘the window of opportunities” to prevent impaired child growth, create healthy conditions for the women during pregnancy and that put the growing child at a lower risk of suffering from chronic diseases in adulthood. In addition, interventions that target maternal health can help to prevent low birth weights and stalling progress in later child development, and the smallholder agenda can take specific care to create healthier environments, lower workloads and production focus to raise availability and utilization of adequate diets. 
There are a range of proven direct and indirect nutrition interventions that could be included in the report for this ‘the window of opportunity’. These include the promotion of breast feeding and optimal complementary feeding, the increase of micronutrient interventions and strategies to improve family and community nutrition and reduction of disease burden (e.g. promotion of hand washing and strategies to reduce the burden of malaria in pregnancy). (For further information, see ACF International Manual, Maximising the Nutritional Impact of Food Security and Livelihoods Interventions, 2011). 
 
Samuel Hauenstein Swan - Senior Policy Advisor 
Jennifer Stevenson - Policy Resercher
Action Against Hunger - ACF International