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12.09.2012 - 09.10.2012

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

Dear Members,

There is now considerable interest among international development organizations and practitioners in agriculture programming and policy to improve nutrition.
A recent “Synthesis of Guiding Principles on Agriculture Programming for Nutrition” has highlighted the increasing number of international development institutions formally weighing in on the topic – and found that the key messages are often similar.  The synthesis identifies 20 principles independently voiced by multiple institutions for planning, implementing, and supporting nutrition-sensitive agriculture, as well as a number of gaps that limit action on these principles.
Building on the earlier FSN forum debate “Linking Agriculture, Food Systems, and Nutrition: What’s your perspective?” and the synthesis, the objective of this discussion is to distill and prioritize actions needed at country-level, research gaps, and support needed out of the substantial international dialogue on improving nutrition through food and agriculture.  
What are the main approaches we collectively see as most important?  What are some practical recommendations that can more effectively promote, support, and guarantee the integration of nutrition into agriculture and food security investments?  What research is needed?  

This discussion is timed strategically before several influential meetings involving agriculture-nutrition linkages and your contributions will be made available at and incorporated into upcoming nutrition and agriculture-related meetings, such as the SUN, CFS (Committee on World Food Security), GCARD (Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development), and CAADP Nutrition Workshop (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme).  Participation in this discussion will allow your voice to be heard at these agenda-setting events.


Based on your own knowledge and experience in the area of improving nutrition through food and agriculture programmes:

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

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

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

As you answer each of these questions, please share practical insights, evidence, and anecdotes from your personal experience researching, implementing, or advocating.

We thank you in advance for the time and thought you contribute to responding – time well-spent, we believe, for the influence your comments will have.

Anna Herforth (consultant to World Bank and FAO)
Cristina Lopriore (member of the EU Nutrition Advisory Services, facilitating in her own personal capacity)

This discussion is now closed. Please contact for any further information.

Mr. Justine Mwanje Uganda Forestry Association, Uganda
  1. If you were designing an agricultural investment programme, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition

Nutrition is enhanced when food production and distribution are efficient. The following factors maximize impact on food production and distribution, as well as nutrition:

  1. Basic infrastructure: Roads, transportation, communication, energy, irrigation, etc. Such infrastructure enables farmers to produce, market their products and capture value (earn a living). For example, Buyambi Parish, Kibiga Sub-county, Kiboga District, Uganda is partly not covered by a mobile telephone network, the roads are poor, there is no grid electricity, and agriculture is rain-fed. This adversely affects production, marketing and productivity.
  2. Production and storage support: Input supply, farm machinery, extension services, weather forecasting, producer associations and cooperatives, etc. The vast majority of farmers in the above-named sub-county have no access to improved seeds, extension services, up-to-date weather services; practice digging and farmer cooperatives are not present. Production is much less than it would have been if the services were available and farmers were organized. Also, productivity has drastically reduced.
  3. Marketing and business support: Structural services, information services, intelligence, chambers of commerce, etc. Farmers need information on policies, markets and supportive institutions so that they can identify opportunities for profitable farming, and/or engage in farming as a business. As stated earlier, farmers should be able to market their products and make a profit. This is the ultimate purpose of farming.
  4. Financial support: Credit services, banking services, crop/farm insurance schemes, trading exchanges, etc. Financial services can tremendously enhance farmer entrepreneurship. However, there is not a single financial institution specifically for farmers in Buyambi Parish, for instance.
  5. Policy and regulatory framework: Security, land tenure, investment grants, safety net functions, etc. It is a framework which fosters innovation, transportation, storage, access to markets, collective action, risk reduction, etc. Including climate change considerations in all plans and programmes. The cumulative effect should be increased commercial agriculture, incomes and sustainable development.
  1. To support the design and implementation of this programme, where would you like to see more research done, and why?

Research should be done in all the areas, because they complement each other in enhancing food production and distribution; and nutrition.

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

Institutions should disseminate research findings and foster dialogue. In addition, they should carry out lobbying and advocacy on the factors below:

  1. Addressing institutional weaknesses: Often, the institutions in the agricultural sector are fragmented, inappropriate and under-funded. This has led to duplication, redundancy, losses and wastage of valuable resources. An appraisal of the institutional framework should be done, in order to ascertain corrective action.
  2. Transparency and accountability: There is widespread corruption and mismanagement in the sector due to various reasons, including inadequate remuneration. The causes of corruption and mismanagement should be addressed.
  3. Developing and implementation of quick alert systems: These would enable quick reaction to extreme events such as droughts, famine, pestilences, landslides, etc. Certainly, sustainability (and productivity) would be greatly enhanced.
  4. Certification of products: Products from sources which abide by policies and regulations should be certified, with assurance of access to markets.
  5. Monitoring of market and value chains: Chains should be constantly assessed, with the aim of improving efficacy and efficiency of marketing. For example, there is tremendous potential for value addition and export of raw and dry beans. That potential is not utilized because monitoring is insufficient. Such monitoring should include impacts on the environment.
  6. Adequate remuneration for responsible persons (as mentioned earlier): This should attract and retain skilled and experienced persons in the agricultural sector.
  7. Incentives for public and private sectors: Farmers should be provided with subsidies to purchase improved inputs (seeds, organic fertilizers, etc) and they should have access to index-based insurance schemes. Extension workers should be adequately facilitated and remunerated (even given bonuses) to work at the grassroots.

Litigation could be resorted to.

Jayachandran Kunjuraman Vijayamma Faculty of Fisheries, Kerala University of Fisheries ...
Jayachandran Kunjuraman Vijayamma


It is always better to think in terms of interdisciplinary integrated agriculture (along with other allied areas) for a balanced nutrition.  Therefore it is high time to think in those lines rather than on purely plant based agriculture

Prof. Dr. K V Jayachandran
Dean, Faculty of Fisheries &
Director, School of Fish. Resource Mgt. & Harvest Technology,
Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies,
Kerala, India

James Breen FAO, Ireland
James Breen

Dear Sir/Madam,

As crops need up to 20 elements for their proper growth and nutrition and we depend on plants and the animals that eat them for food, we must ensure that a sufficient supply of all necessary elements are available to food crops.  Conventional solid fertilizers do not provide a workable way to supply trace elements due to the difficulty of mixing and spreading evenly very small amounts of copper sulphate into a ton of fertilizer.  As trace elements are removed by crops and not replaced in fertilizers, the nutritional value of crops is diminished.  Vegetables grown in different parts of a country may have, as a result, very variable amounts of trace elements or elements such as magnesium which are needed in relatively large amounts.  It is estimated, for example, that over 50 percent of the US population is deficient in Mg.  Magnesium is necessary for the formation of chlorophyll in plants and for many enzymic reactions.

This problem of applying elements such as Cu, Mg, Mn, etc. can be solved by using the Flex Fertilizer System.  This liquid fertilizer system has several advantages over conventional solid, or liquid fertilizers.  The key advantage is that N and P are chemically bonded together in the root-zone and are available for up to 6 weeks under European conditions.  This gives rise to rapid root growth.  When a plant has a large root system it can forage better for nutrients and water.  As a result, the amount of P applied can be cut by up to 50 percent and get the same result as 100 percent application of conventional fertilizer.  N use can normally be cut by up to 25 percent, and leaching of N is almost eliminated, i.e. more of the applied N is actually used by the plant.  Trace elements can be added to this liquid fertilizer as indicated by soil test results, giving rise to super-healthy plants that require less fungicides.  

Flex Fertilizers are formulated for both soil application and foliar application.  It is estimated that foliar applied N is nine times more effective than applying it to the soil, hence very small amounts of N can be applied to very good effect.

Animals grazing grass produced using the Flex Fertilizer System are also healthier, as one would expect, given that the grass they eat contains the major nutrients and trace elements they need.  One farmer told me many years ago that his lambs finished one month earlier on Flex fertilized grass.  

Another major advantage of the Flex Fertilizer System is that it requires much less water/rainfall to work than conventional solid fertilizers.  This has profound implications for dry areas.  

We won't have properly nutritious food until we provide ALL the elements necessary for plant growth at the time the plant needs them.  The Flex Fertilizer System allows this to happen.  It also saves 50 percent of P needed, allowing more economical use of this rapidly depleting resource.

With best regards,

James Breen.

FAO Consultant

Economic Agri Advisors EAA University Of Guyana, Guyana
Economic Agri Advisors

Question 1 – If you were designing an agricultural investment program, what are the top five (5) things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?

The following are five (5) points that can be put in place when implementing an Agriculture Investment Program to maximize its impact on nutrition:

1.      Nutrition Awareness: One of the major factors that can either impede or catapult the success of a program as it regards to maximizing nutrition is Awareness.  It doesn’t matter if the project will lead to substantial strides in improving greater life expectancy in individuals etc, without proper awareness, the target groups will never know about the essence of a program.  A point to note, is that the target groups are pregnant woman and young children (from two (2) months to twelve (12) years) and Guyana has placed significant effort in making sure that those target groups are aware of the benefits of a healthy and nutritious diet.  Moreover, in order to target those groups the following should be used, namely; advertising through the media and other forms such as: one on one discussion with nutrition specialist or through call in programs, secondly, newspapers, posters and billboards- sensitizing individuals on eating a nutritious meal every day.  Thirdly, implement education awareness program targeting school children; this can take the form of guest lectures and discussion at pre- natal clinic for pregnant women.  Fourthly, there is need to modify the school curriculum, in that emphasis should be placed in teaching a course in nutrition, to toward enlighten children on all the issues surrounding the area of nutrition.        

2      Food availability – It is vital that governments ensure that farmers have sufficient market and/or non-market incentives to produce food (particularly, whole foods that are essential for balanced diets). Further, the expansion of farmer field schools, increase access to more affordable fertilizer and the expansion of cold and dry storage facilities all will ensure that food remains available so that they maybe consumed within their appropriate dietary amounts. Guyana has taken initiatives such as the grow more food campaign to ensure that Guyana is in a position to combat rising food prices and to secure the availability of foods within our economy. There’s room for improvement however, as the campaign could be more specific about which crops to grow and could use the opportunity to advocate for the return of Orphan Crops: primarily those traditional crops that are too often neglected and rich in nutritional content.

3      Food Access – Governments must ensure that they upgrade their physical supportive infrastructure in both remote and populated regions within their jurisdictions. This is to assure access to food by all sections of the population in all areas of the country irrespective of incomes and general development. Monetary access to food is essential to ensure that sufficient incentives exist for families to want to eat healthier diets. Various food price policy programs could be erected along with voucher programs based on a means tested approach. Of course, there is no substitute for employment creation and this is always a good place to start to secure monetary access to food. To have a fully national program of nutrition improvement, the government could ensure that supermarkets, fast food outlets and restaurant chains sign a joint agreement with the government as it relates to the preparation and sale of foods that are balance in terms of nutritional requirements (fats, carbohydrates and proteins).

4      Food Stability – The gains of consuming affordable foods in their proper dietary proportions could be eroded by the volatile supply of food and the mere instability of its supply could cause people to cut back on certain staples due to the accompanying price fluctuations. The development of seed banks and the establishment of emergency reserve stocks could reduce the volatility of food supply during the course of a year. The development of climate change mitigation strategies and the use of flood resistant crops would all aid in ensuring food security by less food fluctuations. It is of the utmost importance to say that any farming practice must be done in an environmentally sustainable way, failure to do this would inevitably undermine the argument for ensuring the stability of food supply.

5      Proper Utilization- This point deals with changing the individual’s mindset as it relates to a healthy diet. If affordable food is available, there’s little guarantee that they will be consumed in the right amounts. This could be because of the lack of knowledge, and points to an obvious place of policy intervention. Rampant educational campaigns and advocates need to emerge so as to sensitize the populace about proper nutrition consumption. Governments should collaborate with stakeholders, agronomist, ago-economist and other professionals from the agriculture sector in order to make better decisions on nutritional policy and programs.  Governments should be able to incorporate support actions into agriculture programs to create markets incentives for farmers and consumers as it regards the proper utilization of foods.

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

Too often we place great emphasis on the design phases of a project and with the help of donor agencies we have come to master the art of policy design and concept notes. Consequently, the efficacy of these projects suffers due to insufficient emphasis on the implementation phase, which too often lacks any clear and measurable targets and benchmarks. Guyana has drafted a food and nutrition strategy for 2010-2020 that delineates its policy positions and even identifies constraints that need to be removed to achieve food security along the lines of a healthy and balanced diet. Thus, much research needs to be in the area of developing comparable indicators to ensure we could consistently/accurately measure success or failure of projects. Research in the area of institutional design that is best for the assurance of the proper implementation of projects are vital, since many developing countries suffer from high levels of rent seeking and corruption. It is important that we equip these countries with the best institutional structures so as to secure sustained funding from donor and international agencies.  Research in these areas is vital and become even more essential as Guyana begins to draft its food and nutrition action plan, which is primarily the implementation phase of its strategy. Finally, research within the area of nutrition and men since much of the research focuses primarily on women and children. For instance the Basic Nutrition Program in Guyana focuses mainly on women and child nutrition.

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

International agencies need to incorporate the five points we had identified (as essential to ensure proper nutrition within the context of an agricultural program) within their global policy framework on agriculture food and nutrition. Further, they need to ensure that member countries of FAO and other organizations sign on to the global policy framework on agriculture food and nutrition with clear targets and appropriate indicators and measurements. These are sure ways of ensuring governments commit to action around our recommendations. Alternatively, we could have a global summit to discuss these essentials for food security and proper nutrition and have countries sign on to commitments and programs to ensure the successful achievement of these.  These global organizations could also ensure quality assurance with regards to the implementation phases of these projects by having progress reports done by governments and international agencies. These reports should be comprehensive and have an overall aim of determining the effectiveness of the implementation phase.  

EconomistViews On-The-Go University of Guyana, Guyana

Dear Moderators, Facilitators and Contributors,

Addressing Question 1 -The five top things to ensure maximum impact of the agricultural investment programme on nutrition are as follows;

  1. An extensive assessment of the country’s port folio of agricultural output and imports is required so as to determine the level of nutritional value associated with it. This is critical because it gives much insight as to whether the current supply is sufficient to adequately provide citizens with a healthy diet. Additionally, this would indicate the size of gap that exists between the level that is required and what is supplied.
  2. Research and training. Substantial research is required so as to determine the types of crops that are conducive to the current conditions in the country which would provide the nutritional benefits that were previously lacking. Upon completing this feasibility analysis, the next critical step would be setting up of training hubs around the country so as to equip farmers with the necessary information and skills on how to achieve high levels of output (both in quantity and quality).  
  3. The provision of the necessary tools to enable farmers to successfully implement and accomplish the goal of “producing products with high nutritional value”. These tools include; micro finance programs, extension services, adequate supply and access of equipment to farmers. 
  4. The provision of more effective and efficient market facilities so as to allow the populace to have easier access to products with higher nutritional values. This is very vital because food security not only entails the production and availability of products but that there be easy access to them.
  5. Sensitization programs throughout the country so as to enlighten the populace of the importance of these products and the role they play in enhancing their lives through an increased nutritional intake when consuming these products. This can be done via seminars, television advertisements or the distribution of brochures. Also, it will be very effective to institute a sensitization program at the school level and thereby initiate a change in the way the young populace views food consumption and nutrition.
Please do look forward for another posting from us addressing question 2 before Wednesday October 3, 2012. In addition the contributions made so far are interesting.
Final Year Economics Students (group 4)

We put forward the following ideas as part of the first question posed on the top five things to be done as part of an agricultural investment program to maximize policy impact on nutrition. They are listed in brief, as follows:

1. Raise awareness to the targeted population on the importance of nutritional diet

2. Promote and foster technological change through support of research and marketing

3. Encourage institutional support/participation

4. Increase the availability and accessibility of high value food in both rural and urban communities  

5. Initiate and manage a crisis response agency

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

In keeping with these five initiatives, we see key areas that would benefit from intensified research:

1.     Knowledge of farm incomes - especially of lower income ‘peasant’ farms that often elude the informational net of relevant institutions.  

2.     Knowledge of disaster/climatic impact - knowing how adversely a disaster or inclement weather affects low income/disadvantaged communities both in financial terms and in terms of ‘well-being’ and the degradation of individual livelihoods can prove useful in the design phase of an agricultural policy. However, one should remain cognizant that in LDCs this information may not always be available or reliable.

3.     Knowledge on the different communication channels so as to encourage high income countries to invest in the promotion of nutrition in LDC’s, whether through the private and public sector, NGO’s or any other means of communicating information across to LDC’s. 

4.     Knowledge is most needed in areas of agriculture such as nutrition and health, in the LDC’s, so as to encourage individuals to make wise nutritional decisions in order to take better care of their health and by extension expand the demand for healthier agricultural products.


Cecilia Murcia Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia, Colombia
Cecilia Murcia

Dear friends:

Which agriculture investments would you suggest that can improve nutrition? and can you think of interventions that at the same time correct other harms of current approaches and policies, thus creating further opportunities?

The central problem of rural poverty is access to land, water and capital to more fully develop this potential. What technology? Sustainable alternative technologies to minimize the impact on ecosystems and human health.

However, the full autonomy of farmers and exercise of their rights of participation and citizenship and political representation as differential and plural group must be ensured.

This requires: educate and train farmers with the use of virtual platform and didactic manuals; creating healthy  habits; innocuous production processes; rescue o traditional production techniques that were replaced by high-impact technology (chemistry); rescue of the  traditional culture and solidarity that allows the farmer to be happy with their beliefs and the way to keep the land, preserving their traditional language, cultivate native products without genetic changes; guidance on mutual aid and barter. The farmer must  to be able to choose their representatives and  are not used in political processes; farmers must be involved in some processes of transformation of the products (Agribusiness).

Another important factor to be considered in the formulation of policies on food and nutrition is the protection of fertile land; intensive agriculture and minery explotation is impacting fertile territories and countries end up having many desertified lands, so, it's time to reflect these issues.


Cecilia Murcia Garcia


1.    Improve food reserve centres by provding quality housing facility, store room.

(i).     Practice organic farming opposed to conventional farming
(ii).     Empowering small scale farmers to have capital equipment e.g oxen triddle pumps, tractors etc
(iii)    Farmers to use recommended hybrid seeds
(iv)    Establish markets and selling depot

2.    Africa has more potential for research because it has to graduate from old systems of farming to modern.

3.    To sit down with country government to design and a unique plan that will accelerate implementation agriculture policies.

4.    I would also want to note here that the super goal in agriculture has resulted in good health people reduced mortality rate in both human and domestic animals
In Africa most farmers used to abandon land on assumption that it has lost soil nutrient so they practiced shifting cultivation which resulted in cutting and clearing more land for farming, but now they are able to practice crop rotation.

Sharon Gordon

Designing Complete Nutrition Gardens and Vitamin Gardens

For areas with adequate land near dwellings for Complete Nutrition Gardens:

Complete nutrition gardens(CNG) provide all the calories and nutrition that a person needs while increasing soil fertility and minimizing water use.  If each country designs and tests CNG for the various regions of their country and the preferred foods of their area, families can be provided with a plan that will make it possible for them to meet their nutritional needs.  Initial research has focused on annual food plants, minimizing garden space, and the same diet year round in order to get the gardens going as quickly as possible.  This is a good place to start since it improves local nutrition as quickly as possible.  For inspiration see research by Albie Miles:

To increase the diversity and resiliency of the food system, it would be beneficial to use the same framework and add the following components to the CNG system:
CNG plans for each growing season in the region
Permaculture and Edible Landscaping
A graduated plan that allows people to steadily add perennial food plants each year until they have all they need while still maintaining space and light for the annual food plants
Edible Landscaping of public places
Easy(hens for eggs) and more challenging livestock(goats and cows for milk, cheese)
Double Insulated unheated greenhouses and winter harvest techniques
Natural and Low Tech food storage and preservation techniques
CNGs that incorporate the above techniques to spread the gardening, harvesting, and food preservation workload more evenly through the year

For areas with small plots of land around dwellings, allotments/community garden plots,  patio or balcony container gardening, roof top gardening

Where there is a substantial portion of land but not enough for a CNG for each family member,  families could be encouraged to grow a percentage of the CNG that fits on their land.

Where people have very small gardening spaces, the research and garden designs could focus on crops that provide nutrition which complements the local grain and legumes diet.  Look for foods that provide flavor and nutrition, are very productive, are diverse in color, can be preserved easily with low tech methods such as drying, or which need to be consumed shortly after harvest.  Items such as garlic, sweet or hot peppers, parsley, cilantro, tomatoes, and leafy greens could be key ones with which to begin.  Where people are endangered by malnutrition, the quickest way to change their lives is through the planting of the colorful small round radishes.  The radishes and their leaves can be eaten beginning three weeks after planting.

If people are using containers, raised beds, or Salad Tables, ensure that they are using food safe containers and untreated/nontoxic wood.

To promote research by both the public and professional agriculturalists, consider having a contest to see what people can produce in a small Vitamin Garden such as 4 foot by 25 foot (100 square foot) or a 10 square meter(1.2m x 8.34m) plot.  To encourage accurate data collection, enter participants into the contest based on reporting data at regular intervals rather than on total yield.  For inspiration see Rosalind Creasy’s 100 square foot garden which produced over 235 pounds of produce from one summer planting season.  By including spring and fall plantings, the gardener could harvest triple the amount or more.

To reduce the amount of land used for growing cooking fuels, and so that more land is available for growing food in any size plots, promote the duel use of solar cooking and fuel efficient stoves.

For more resources follow the link [Ed.]

Jacky Ganry France

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

1) Support an action plan to promote the production of crops naturally rich in micronutrients and particularly fruits and vegetable, paying major attention to their availability all year round ( seasonality, transport, post-harvest/storage and market management), with a careful balance between national/local production and importation.
2) Encourage such agricultural production trough incitative measures in terms of financial returns  for the producers and in terms of rural development
3) Support an action plan to promote the consumption of food naturally rich in micronutrients and particularly fruits and vegetable, strongly connected with the production plan.
Pay major attention to the affordability and price of the products. Don't consider biofortification as a panacea. Pay more attention to food products naturally rich in micronutrients
4) Support all actions in favor of a better information and education of the consumers, with adapted messages for targeted groups, for better and more balanced diet . For developing countries, consider mal-nutrition ( lack of micronutrients) as important as under nutrition (lack of calories) taking into account the explosion of NCDs. Avoid confusion between over-nutrition and mal-nutrition, etc....
5) Encourage integrated multistakeholders actions linking consumption to production and agriculture to nutrition, health, natural resources management, transports,....

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

- relation between the type of production ( conventional, integrated, organic,...;) and the nutritive quality of food
- the nutritive quality of underutilized crops , particularly fruits and vegetable with an aim of better valorization of the current genetic diversity
- objective evaluation of comparative advantages of food products naturally rich in micronutrients (particularly F&V) and biofortification
- psycho - sociological studies for better information and sensibilisation of consumers

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

Encourage actions such as PROFEL/PROFAV , which are conducted jointly by FAO, WHO, GlobalHort,...