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)
In partnership with:
Related links and resources:
Synthesis of Guiding Principles on Agriculture Programming for Nutrition
FSN forum debate “Linking Agriculture, Food Systems, and Nutrition: What’s your perspective?”
FAO Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division