Re: Nutrition-enhancing agriculture and food systems

Etienne du Vachat Action contre la Faim - ACF (Action Against Hunger), France

Making national agriculture policy frameworks more sensitive to nutrition

In 2011, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) has published a technical manual on how to maximize the nutritional impacts of programmes and interventions in the field of agriculture, food security and livelihoods (available bit.ly/12XOncg).

In fact, various tools exist that are very useful to make agriculture more sensitive to nutrition at programme and project level. As underlined previously in this discussion, many existing guidelines and recommendations have been the basis of the “Synthesis of Guiding Principles on Agriculture Programming for Nutrition”, recently published by FAO.

The programme level matters, but agriculture policies are a prerequisite for programmes to deliver. In order to transform investments in agriculture that have a potential for nutrition into actually nutrition-sensitive investments at a large scale, the national agriculture policy frameworks need to integrate nutrition as a priority. If agricultural policies are able to provide the right kind of priority and incentives for nutrition, they will foster and support the multiplication of many individual and collective nutrition-sensitive initiatives.

This is why ACF is analysing the nutrition sensitivity of agricultural policy framework in different countries. We are also willing to assess to what extent the promising international agenda on nutrition-sensitive agriculture currently translates into policies and practices at country level.

There is a double challenge to be taken up at country level: integrating agriculture as a key sector in national mutli-sectoral undernutrition reduction strategies while also mainstreaming nutritional concerns, objectives and actions into sectoral agriculture policies, to increase their sensitivity to nutrition.

We have found that there is actually a lag between what is increasingly being promoted at the international level and the responses of actors in the field. Even in countries that have ambitious multisectoral strategies against undernutrition, the agriculture sector has not necessarily dedicated a high priority to nutrition.

Most of the constraints to a higher prioritization of nutrition by the agriculture sector are highly interrelated, including:

- weak knowledge and evidence base

- absence of adequate information and monitoring systems for nutrition in the agriculture sector

- difficulties in making cross-sectoral coordination mechanisms around nutrition work

These constraints need to be addressed jointly, to transform the vicious circle of low consideration and underinvestment into a virtuous circle.

To make agriculture more sensitive to nutrition at country level, the right set of incentives should be developed and embedded at different levels, from the highest policy framework to the day-to-day activities of extension workers in the field. These incentives should aim at overcoming most of the constraints to a higher prioritization of nutrition by agriculture, by compensating for the lack of common language between agriculture and nutrition, the low level of knowledge on nutrition from the agriculture side and the weak accountability of the agriculture sector vis-à-vis nutrition. This last point is particularly important: the agriculture sector has for long been evaluated on the basis of its contribution to income generation and economic growth, not on the basis of its contribution to better nutrition.

Providing the right incentives to the agriculture sector is therefore a great challenge ahead. This should include:

Making explicit what is agriculture contribution to better nutrition: at the field level, the pathways between agriculture and nutrition are not so well-known. What role can play the agriculture sector for nutrition should be made more explicit. The agriculture sector and the nutrition community should work together to identify what contribution the agriculture sector could bring to the fight against undernutrition in the country, depending on the context-specific determinants of undernutrition and characteristics of the agriculture and food systems. (Though agriculture is only one part of the wider food system, it is a major component, especially in the rural areas of low and middle income countries, where lives the majority of the population affected by under-nutrition.)

Incorporating nutrition and food consumption indicators into information and monitoring systems: agriculture information systems rarely include nutritional and food consumption related indicators (such as the Household Diet Diversity Score for instance) into their methodologies and surveys. However, information is a key to adequate decision making. Therefore, it is required to establish better information and monitoring systems linking agriculture and nutrition data. Such systems will support building and improving cross-sectoral analysis and dialogue around nutrition. This should include plans to monitor and mitigate the potentially negative consequences on nutrition that may arise from large scale intensive agricultural investments.

Strengthening policy coordination around nutrition: existing multisectoral coordination mechanisms around nutrition, when they exist, are often primarily related to the health sector, especially at the national level. There is thus an institutional challenge to increasing the participation of the agriculture sector to such coordination body, to facilitate cross-sectoral dialogue around nutrition. Better coordination between agriculture and other sectors around nutrition are needed and must be supported to build effective governance for nutrition at country level.

Ensuring nutrition training opportunities are available: the knowledge and understanding of nutrition is very heterogeneous at the level of agriculture ministries. Furthermore there is a lack of both basic and on-the-job training on nutrition available for agriculturalists and extension service staffs. There is a need for training on both general nutrition knowledge and specifically on the links between agriculture and nutrition. The training efforts should focus in particular on extension agents, whose role makes it possible to spread messages on nutrition to farmers and communities, but should also include civil servants from Ministries of Agriculture at central level.

Dedicating more funding for the implementation of nutrition-sensitive agriculture programmes: the low level of funding available for nutrition-sensitive programmes unfortunately reflects the level of priority dedicated to nutrition within the agriculture sector. More funding is therefore needed for agriculture programmes and interventions that will in particular take on board the following issues (only marginally integrated into 'traditional' rural development programmes):

- set up targeting tools to ensure the most vulnerable communities will benefit from agricultural investments

- dedicate a specific attention to the role of women in agriculture (in particular through increased access to land, inputs and income) while making sure nutrition gains are maximized for both mothers and children (through introduction of timesaving technologies, childcare nurseries when appropriate, and nutritional education and awareness-raising)

At the international level as well, more efforts should be put in building stronger consensus on agriculture and nutrition. The recently established “Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition” could be a vehicle for this, if it associates enough countries and civil society organisations to its work. Nutrition should also be made a high priority in international agriculture forums, particularly the CFS (Committee on World Food Security), as the most inclusive international policy forum focusing on agriculture, food security and hunger reduction. A future HLPE report on the challenges of making food systems and agricultural policies work better for nutrition would represent a good opportunity for this.