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

Dr. Anna Herforth Independent consultant, United States of America

Final note by Cristina Lopriore and Anna Herforth

We are astounded by the richness of this discussion. There are so many important, useful, well-said ideas that it is impossible to make note of them all without copying and pasting the entire proceedings. We are grateful to those who contributed in writing, as well as those many more who read and thought about the contributions. More largely, we are grateful for the important work you do with conviction, as expressed through the thoughts you shared – truly actualizing these ideas. Participants wrote in from many parts of the world, based in many professional and student roles; that we were able to share across these boundaries on a topic of common interest is one of the best parts of this Forum. How encouraging it was to see class projects inspired by the discussion from the University of Guyana; and responses from the very people who are sometimes the focus of advice in this topic: students in non-nutrition academic training programs, ministry staff, and women agriculture extension and marketing professionals! We are encouraged that this topic was important to you, and we are grateful to read your contributions.

We introduced this discussion with the idea to provide inputs and key points back to upcoming high-level agenda-setting events, such as the CFS (next week), GCARD, workshop on nutrition in CAADP, and others. Remarks made by leaders of global organizations at the recent SUN high-level event at the UNGA meetings in New York (Sept 27, 2012) provides a way of putting this discussion into perspective of the global momentum around this topic. José Graziano da Silva (FAO Director General) emphasized the need to recover traditional foods and gastronomy, as an opportunity to promote small-scale farmers and local production; and also to increase food and nutrition education in view of both obesity and hunger. Tamar Manuelyan Atinc (World Bank VP, Human Development) spoke of the need to produce affordable, diverse, nutritious foods throughout the year, as an essential to child growth and nutrition, itself essential to poverty reduction; and ensuring that the Bank’s large agriculture investments have nutrition objectives and indicators. As noted by moderator David Nabarro, these comments represent a transformation happening within institutions, new resources being directed toward improved nutrition, and willingness of leaders to be accountable and to learn.

What is particularly encouraging about this momentum is that all of these institutions have many messages in common about the best way to link agriculture and nutrition, as shown in the synthesis paper shared at the outset of this discussion. Contributors to this Forum discussion represented a different cross-section of professionals than those involved in publishing the recent guidance; yet nonetheless, all the same key principles were raised many times over. These are some of the principles echoed very strongly in this discussion:
•    The importance of understanding the nutrition situation, through participatory assessment, and causal analysis to understand pathways to nutrition outcomes for given set of actions. In combination with understanding the resources available, this will help focus resources on solutions that would address the problems.
•    Nutrition objectives, and their measurement through monitoring and evaluation, as critical for designing programs to address nutrition, to link production better with nutritional needs, and for accountability.
•    Systematic assessment of both positive and negative impacts.
•    Emphasis on nutritional quality of food produced, not just quantity – supported through diversification, research, and national policy.
•    Actions to empower women and put women at the center of interventions.
•    Nutrition education in many forms.
•    Natural resource management in many forms (e.g crop rotation, protection from soil erosion, biocontrol of pests).
•    Reduction of food waste, and the important roles of value chain actors around food storage and distribution.
•    Better access to markets, including infrastructure and post-harvest value addition, balanced with an approach that does not over-emphasize economic profit over diets and sustainability.
•    Collaboration and communication across sectors and among all stakeholders.
•    Advocacy for nutrition, with messages especially tailored to investors and those with ample political and financial resources (e.g. governments, private sector).
•    Capacity building in extension, educators, and government staff.

While consistent with current institutional guidance as summarized above, there are a number of distinct priorities your Forum contributions emphasized more strongly:
•    Environmentally sustainable production, including organic and low-input production, more innovative fertilization techniques and agronomic practices supporting soil biota.
•    Diversity as the primary production approach (more than the language of “growing nutrient-rich foods”). The viewpoint is concerned with access to nutrient-rich diets among smallholders, but additionally reflects the value of biodiversity for both humans and ecosystems.
•    Underutilized/orphan crops; and in the “do no harm” category, consideration of not only the impact of what is sown, but what may be lost in the harvest – including traditional knowledge as well as wild foods and indigenous crop varieties.
•    Outcomes for communities, not just households or individuals, given the strong influence of local resources, knowledge, and norms on behavior.
•    Overnutrition and undernutrition as both important nutrition problems, equally indicative of an inefficient and inequitable food system.
•    Resilience in risk management and disaster response/mitigation, and including climate change considerations in all plans.
•    Participatory or community-led approaches in program planning.

These themes emphasize, consistent with FSN Forum discussion #76, a “systems approach for looking at how food and agriculture can contribute to better nutrition.” The research needs identified were very much along the lines of how to carry out the above priorities effectively, and with the right tools and technologies. We need to generate knowledge in “what works” – and ensure that more of it be documented and shared. Here, the supporting role of our institutions becomes important.

So what can our institutions do? These are the priorities we heard:
1.    Carry out the recommendations voiced above in our operational work: Focus on local solutions and systems (context matters). Focus on women. Focus on vulnerable groups in a way that empowers. Focus on nutrition education including traditional knowledge. Do everything within an overarching goal to improve resilience and empowerment of households and communities, based in the natural resource base of water, living soil, and biological and genetic diversity.
2.    Foster collaboration and communication – across sectors, across institutions.
3.    Support research and evaluation of agriculture-nutrition projects: 1.with financial and human resources, and 2. with tools, methodologies, and indicators (for example, developing “mutual metrics” to consistently and accurately measure progress and impact, such as indicators of food security, dietary diversity, and women’s empowerment).
4.    Advocate for nutrition. Shape understanding of “food security” in terms of dietary and nutrition impact.
5.    Widely share knowledge: The international organizations have a role in providing easy access to common guidance and messages, important reports and forums, to reduce information asymmetry. Our institutions have a role in communication and knowledge sharing, for example through discussions like this one.

There is now a great deal of momentum around nutrition, and commitments of agencies to increase attention to nutrition through agriculture. There are a series of high-level meetings on these topics in the coming months and through 2013, and input from this discussion can emphasize a certain tone of inclusion. Together we were able to prioritize some key messages that should come across clearly to planners and policy-makers, and all actors. We hope to see a very productive year for nutrition, and this discussion certainly has already, and will continue to contribute to the momentum. We again thank you for your time, thought, and rich inputs.

Anna and Cristina