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

Lalita Bhattacharjee FAO, Bangladesh

Submitted by Drs Lalita Bhattacharjee (Nutritionist), Abdul Mannan (National Nutrition Adviser), National Food Policy Capacity Strengthening Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bangladesh and Mostafa Faruq Al Banna (Associate Research Director), Food Planning  and Monitoring Unit, Ministry of Food, Bangladesh

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

  • As part of the agricultural policy, it would be foremost necessary to view agriculture within an ecosystem context rather than focus on enhancing production and productivity alone.  The agricultural system should be able to provide a diverse variety of foods that can be locally grown/produced.  From a household nutrition perspective, this should encompass an integrated farming system that supports the production of integrated horticulture, small livestock, indigenous food systems and pond aquaculture.
  • In promoting local foods for household food security and nutrition, engage national and sub national level agriculture specialists assist in identifying a list of nutritious local foods ( indigenous roots, herbs, leaves, fruits, and fish ), suitable for production in household gardens in collaboration with the community for production and promotion of affordable local foods compatible with the local ecosystems. 
  • Identify and establish explicit nutrition (production, consumption and dietary diversity and anthropometric) indicators to be monitored as part of nutritional impact assessment especially focusing on the first 1000 days of life covering the period from conception until 2 years of age.
  • Integrate and incorporate a set of core, consistent and critical messages in nutrition for dissemination across core sectors of agriculture, food and health extension services so as to enhance consumption of a variety of foods - on correct food combinations, preparations, processing using appropriate technologies and storage for household and community levels focusing on enhancing the diets of mothers and young children. 
  • Invest in training and capacity building of extension workers, community workers and women farmer groups  across agriculture, livestock and fisheries and health sectors equipping them with an integrated package of  agriculture, nutrition, health and hygiene promotion modules.

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

  • Developing, documenting and promoting nutrient dense food varieties/cultivars/species also specific to agro climatic conditions  are required at national levels.  This would include HYV cereal varieties, coarse grains/millets, nutrient - rich pulses, local poultry and indigenous/small fish species as well as insects, livestock development and genetic improvement  with a focus on cow and goat for milk production,  mushrooms, vegetables and fruits (yellow sweet potato, pumpkin, leguminous/bean vegetables, vegetable and fruits rich in pro vitamin A  carotenoids, citrus fruits and others), herbs, spices and medicinal plants.
  • Establishing mixed fruit orchards and intercropping for increasing production of horticulture foods that provide micronutrients, anti oxidants and intensifying the process of crop diversification to make available more energy and protein rich foods at affordable cost .eg. sorghum, millets and maize; intercropping to produce non staple food crops.
  • Such research is required  not only make available a range of nutritious foods and food combinations but also to address issues of bioavailability that is crucial for the development and promotion of food based strategies based on dietary diversification.  Overall, it is necessary for sustainable increase of diversified food production with a nutrition orientation that is developed through improved technology and resilient management practices.

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

  • Research and academic organizations, relevant UN agencies, Development partners as well as the private sector (as and where necessary) will need to commit support through innovative technical expertise, technology  transfer, strengthening extension services, establishing /strengthening food storage and supply chain facilities, policy advice, monitoring and strengthening policy implementation with achievement of targets and nutrition improvement outcomes and impacts especially  on maternal and child nutrition.
  • Country- led agriculture plans and initiatives need to be developed that are anchored in the policy, programmatic and financial frameworks of the national development plans and strategies. Prioritization and costing of agriculture and food security interventions that impact on nutrition are required in addition to putting in place processes and systems that are results- based, guide monitoring and implementation and demonstrate policy impact  to enable effectiveness of nutrition oriented agriculture interventions.   
  • Given the climate change impacts on food and nutrition security particularly for the vulnerable poor, integrated agricultural development and resilience interventions and actions will be required that lead to enhanced production, productivity, balanced growth, value chain and increased access to food and nutrition through appropriate institutional arrangements and sustainable resource management.
  • Strengthen the integration of nutrition education through agricultural extension, investing in and mobilizing women and supporting agricultural tasks that women are engaged in and prioritizing those that generate employment and improve nutrition of households and children.