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

Mr. Ewan Robinson Institute of Development Studies, United Kingdom

Apologies for this contribution coming in late. These recommendations come from John Humphrey, Spencer Henson, and Ewan Robinson, drawing on research to link agriculture and nutrition through value chains undertaken by GAIN and the Institute of Development Studies.

  1. Provide learning and analysis tools to agriculture projects

We need to share and disseminate learning and tools so they reach new and ongoing agriculture projects. Agricultural programmers and practitioners may not be aware on how best to design interventions in order to maximize nutrition outcomes and link ongoing activities to nutrition.

Projects need to systematically identify which groups undernutrition reduction activities are designed to benefit; they should map the multiple pathways agricultural interventions can use to enhance nutrition, including the following:

  • - promoting production and on-farm consumption of nutritious foods
  • - promoting ‘off-farm’ consumption of nutritious foods (including by farming households in other areas, agricultural workers, and urban population.) Make nutritious foods accessible and affordable to these populations through interventions in value chains, including purchasing crops, processing, distribution, retail and marketing
  • - raising farmer incomes, and using education, behaviour change, etc. to enhance the link between income and nutrition
  1. Improve the evidence base on agriculture-nutrition

We need a better evidence base for undertaking where and how agriculture can help improve nutrition.A recent systematic review (Masset, Haddad, Cornelius, & Isaza-Castro, 2012) found that very few agricultural interventions were designed in a sufficiently rigorous way to allow assessment of nutrition outcomes. This study also found that available research does not provide conclusive evidence that agricultural interventions can reduce stunting among young children.

Research is needed to better define the relationship between of agriculture-nutrition interventions and other nutrition-relevant interventions (i.e. health services, sanitation, behaviour change, etc.) and the relative importance of these approaches in tackling the causes of undernutrition. We need to know in which contexts and for which groups agriculture-nutrition interventions are the most appropriate approach, and when other approaches should be the primary focus.

  1. Invest more in nutrition of key groups beyond farming households

Most policy recommendations on agriculture-nutrition focus on interventions into agricultural production and food consumption at the farm-level (see Herforth 2012), and most aim to improve nutrition for farming households. This is a critically important population with a high vulnerability to undernutrition. However, a farm-level approach alone cannot address the majority of the undernutrition burden, which affects populations off-farm, including urban populations and landless agricultural workers.

To address these groups’ access to affordable, acceptable and nutritious foods, interventions and research need to address the agri-food value chains that can or could provide nutritious foods to populations in need, including processes of shipping, processing, distribution, retail and marketing. These interventions must happen alongside and connect with the on-farm interventions that promote the production of nutritious foods.

For example, work by GAIN and other institutions to promote orange-flesh sweet potato in Mozambique focused on providing services to farmers, but also linked farmers through value chains to merchants, urban retailers and small-scale food processors. The project supported retailers in urban areas to acquire a reliable supply of high quality sweet potato tubers, and to promote and market their health benefits to consumers based on tubers’ orange colour. Projects have also piloted food products that incorporate orange-flesh sweet potato, such as so-called golden bread, in order to make the food accessible and desirable to a much wider population group, both on- and off-farm.

  1. Research and interventions need to pay more attention to the role of the private sector

Much of the current efforts on agriculture-nutrition tend to overlook the importance of the private sector, instead focusing on donor-funded agricultural interventions. However, given that a majority of the world’s population accesses most foods through value chains that include private sector actors, their role will need to be addressed, including overcoming barriers and aligning incentives for private sector actors to invest in and profit from producing and delivering nutritious foods to target populations.

See the attachment:summary of recommendations