Pathways to Agricultural Productivity and Nutrition
By Ann Steensland
Deputy Director, Global Harvest Initiative
Reducing malnutrition and obesity are essential for economic productivity and growth, particularly in agriculture. Malnutrition leads to stunted physical growth, cognitive impairments and increases the risk for chronic disease, all of which make farmers less productive and make it more difficult for people in rural communities to develop off-farm enterprises.
To meet targets for reductions in stunting (low height-for-age), wasting (low weight-for-height) and women’s anemia, and to increase exclusive breastfeeding in low- and middle-income countries, the World Bank estimates that governments will need to increase their nutrition-related expenditures by a factor of 2.3 over 10 years and donor funding will need to increase by a factor of 3.6 in the same period, for a total investment of $70 billion.
While both men and women have roles to play in reducing malnutrition in the household, women are more likely to spend money on “reproductive” goods, such as nutritious foods, school fees or health care. Increasing a woman’s income through productivity gains and access to agricultural markets can improve the nutritional status, health and earning potential of herself and her family. Still, recent studies have shown that the linkages between agriculture, women’s empowerment and nutrition are not always straightforward.
Increasing agricultural productivity requires two things that most poor women lack: financial resources to purchase productive inputs and time to learn new skills or develop new markets for their products. Without resources to buy productive inputs such as hybrid seeds, herbicides or irrigation technologies, a woman will spend more time planting, weeding and harvesting to increase her output. She may also spend time marketing and selling her products, further reducing the number of hours she has for reproductive tasks, such as childcare, eldercare, cooking and housekeeping, which in most contexts she will still be expected to perform.
A study of agriculture-nutrition linkages in Zambia found that for the poorest households the best agricultural pathway to improving nutrition is for women to increase the production of nutrient-dense foods. If women have access to assets or credit and can purchase time-saving agricultural inputs, the best pathway to improving nutrition is increasing the production of cash crops or high-value crops, such as fruits and vegetables, using the increased income to purchase nutritious foods. While circumstances vary greatly from one community to another, research in Africa and Asia confirms that identifying women’s time and resource constraints is essential to improving both agricultural productivity and maternal and child nutrition.
For more on the linkages between agriculture, gender and nutrition, see the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®), pages 56-58.
 John Hoddinott, Harold Alderman, Jere Behrman Lawrence Haddad, and Susan Horton, “The Economic Rationale for Investing in Stunting Reduction,” GCC Working Paper Series, (September 15, 2013).
 M. Sheka, J. Kakietek, M. D’Alimonte, D. Walters, H. Rogers, J. Dayton Eberwein, S. Soe-Lin, and R. Hecht, Investing in Nutrition: The Foundation for Development,” The World Bank, (2016).
 Hitomi Komatsu, Hazel Jean Malapit, and Sophie Theis, “How Does Women’s Time in Reproductive Work and Agriculture Affect Maternal and Child Nutrition?,“ IFPRI Discussion Paper 01486, (December 2015) and Hazel Jean Malaput and Agnes Quisumbing, “What Dimensions of Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Matter for Nutrition in Ghana?” Food Policy, Vol. 52, pp. 54-63, (April 2015).
 Rhoda Mofya-Mukuka and Christian Kuhlgatz, “Child Malnutrition, Agricultural Diversification and Commercialization among Smallholders in Eastern Zambia,” Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute Working Paper 90, (January 2015).
6 Hoddinott et al., (2013).
*The following case study highlighting women's empowerment through agriculture and improved nutrition in India appears in Global Harvest Initiative's 2014 Global Agricultural Productivity Report, Global Revolutions in Agriculture: The Challenge and Promise of 2050, pages 39-40.
Woman Overcome Barriers to Introduce Improved Agricultural Practices
The UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is supporting the Tejaswini Rural Women’s Empowerment Program (TRWEP) to facilitate social and economic empowerment in the six poorest districts in the State of Madhya Pradesh, where there is little resource or technology utilization and limited livelihood options or access to markets and credit. The state government, banks and beneficiaries are co-funding the project and the Department of Women and Children’s Development is the implementing agency. Since the Tejaswini Program’s start in 2007, more than 12,000 SelfHelp Groups (SHG) have been formed, which provide the platform for social/gender equity discussions, savings groups and livelihoods, skills and leadership training.
The program targets 166,000 of the poorest households by supporting 12,442 SHGs. The key achievements as of September 2013 were:
- 82 percent of the households now have cash income and need not rely solely on bartering, compared to 47 percent with cash income in control villages;
- 86 percent of participating households have improved food security and reduction in occasional food shortages; and
- in participating villages, 1,809 SHG members were elected to Panchayati Raj Institutions (village assemblies that develop economic and social plans) and 62 percent of the members of the assemblies were women, exceeding the 50 percent reserved for women by law.
The Tejaswini Program introduced the System for Rice Intensification (SRI), using high-yielding certified seeds that are first tested for germination and then sown in a nursery with the right amount of water to ensure quality seedlings. Within eight days, the seedlings are transplanted to the fields with uniform spacing. An NGO, PRADAN, demonstrated how the system worked and trained 124 village-level agents to provide field training and support to women farmers at each critical stage — nursery raising, transplantation and weeding. The Madhya Pradesh Department of Agriculture provided the certified seeds and inputs — including weeders, sprays, pesticides, manure and rope for lining up the rows.
At first, many women had difficulty convincing their families to allow them to try the new technologies. As one participant, Mrs. Kulasti, explained, “Neither my husband nor my father-in-law believed that I could learn something that would be useful for the entire family.” Mrs. Kulasti’s family acquiesced to allow her to use half a hectare of their land to demonstrate the technique, but if her production was lower than their side (with the traditional method), then she would have to leave the house or work extra hours as a laborer to earn the deficit.
Mrs. Kulasti produced twice as much rice as her family on the same amount of land using substantially less seed. Her experience was similar to many other women and the high levels of productivity convinced other families to adopt the technology as well.
The success of SRI changed attitudes in the village — people were open to new ideas. Villagers started growing maize as a second crop and are also growing tomatoes, eggplant, coriander, spinach, spices and chilies in their backyards or on upper land. The village started making collective decisions about agricultural production — something they had never been done before.
Now, the Gadhar village has surplus food, extra income and almost no cases of child malnutrition. Men help with farming since they are willing to use the mechanical weeders, while hand weeding was considered women’s work. Women have more confidence and leadership roles, and they do not have to work as laborers in order to earn additional wages.
Thank you for your response to the posting from Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IICA). We agree that a richer, more nuanced conversation about the linkages between trade and food security is essential if we are to maximize the benefits, and reduce the risks, of global and regional trade, particularly for smaller and medium scale producers.
The Rome Declaration on Nutrition (ICN2, 2014) recognizes that the “root causes of and factors leading to malnutrition are complex and multidimensional” and identifies “poverty, underdevelopment and low socio-economic status [as] major contributors to malnutrition in both rural and urban areas.” (Pg. 1, 5 and 5.a.) The Declaration emphasizes that raising the productive capacity, income, and resilience of small producers, especially women, plays an “important role in reducing malnutrition.” (Page 4, 14.f.) Trade cannot address all of the socio-economic and political challenges that influence food security and nutrition, but trade creates opportunities for small scale producers to increase their incomes – a critical component of increasing food security and reducing malnutrition.
One example comes from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) which facilitates a public-private partnership designed to help smallholders cocoa producers expand exports of dried cocoa beans certified as very organic and fair trade. (Full project description attached.) Sao Tome and Principe is home to one of the rarest and most expensive cocoa beans on the market, but the cocoa price crash of 1998 devastated the local cocoa industry. In 2003, IFAD facilitated a partnership between 500 farmers in 14 communities and Kaoka, a leading French organic chocolate producer, who agreed to purchase all the organic-certified cocoa that the farmers could produce and provide technical and commercial advice. Thanks to the project, known as PAPAFPA (Participator Smallholder Agriculture and Artisanal Fisheries Development Programme), smallholder cocoa producers have resumed cultivation and organized themselves into associations and cooperatives.
The result, both in terms of productivity and incomes, has been dramatic. Export of cocoa has increased from 50 to 900+ tons in just ten years (2003-2013). Producers now sell their cocoa for more than double the price, they have a stable set of buyers for their product, and incomes have increased fivefold. The benefits of the revitalized cocoa value chain spread beyond the original participants in the project. “Thanks to IFAD and its partners, nearly 2,200 farmers have enhanced their living conditions and strengthened food security by growing cocoa certified as organic and fair trade.” (IFAD Rural Poverty Portal.) The increased income has allowed families to invest in home improvements, such as generators and refrigerators, while the producer associations have invested in community health care centers and sanitation projects. All of these investments enable and encourage good nutrition.
One of the biggest believers in the potential for trade to improve food security and reduce poverty is Ambassador Darci Vetter, U.S. Chief Agriculture Trade Negotiator. At a recent event hosted by the Global Harvest Initiative in Washington D.C., Ambassador Vetter said, “Good trade policy is good food security policy.” She described the goal of trade as providing more people with access to more nutrient rich foods, while increasing farmer income and reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture. The key, said Ambassador Vetter, is to listen to markets. “Export bans, refusing to let products leave creates disincentives for the farmers. Some of the highest tariffs that we see are among and between countries that…are producing staple crops that their neighbors need but [the farmers] can’t get them to market.” Meanwhile, highly subsidized production “creates overproduction that perhaps the land and water cannot support,” she said.
In order to maximize the opportunity for trade to increase food security and nutrition, particularly for small scale producers, value chain development and market access initiatives need to be supported by policies and programs that promote women’s social and economic empowerment, provide nutrition and financial education, improve food storage and safety, and stimulate the market for affordable, nutrient rich foods. Measuring the direct impacts of trade on food security and diets can be challenging (as Ruth Campbell of ACDI/VOCA describes in her submission.) Nonetheless, the current success and future potential for local, regional, and global trade to increase incomes, expand access to affordable nutritious food, and improve the socio-economic status of women means that trade is a critical tool in meeting the imperative to reduce global poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
Senior Policy Associate, Global Harvest Initiative
Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) welcome this opportunity to participate in this critical conversation about the linkages between trade and food security.
We present the following case study, which appeared in GHI’s 2013 Global Agricultural Productivity Report®, as well as some policy recommendations for unlocking the power of trade to deliver development and food security benefits.
Training and Technical Cooperation in the Americas for Better Agribusiness, Markets, and Trade
The Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region holds vast potential to provide food and agriculture products to meet the demands of a growing world. According to the GHI’s 2014 Global Agricultural Productivity Report®, if the LAC region maintains their current rate of Total Factor Productivity growth, by 2030 they will be able to meet 116% of regional demand. Trading this agricultural surplus will solidify LAC as the next global breadbasket.
In order to harness the potential of trade and ensure that small and medium scale producers benefit from it, IICA provides training and technical cooperation among its 34 member states, resulting in better policies, institutional frameworks, and capabilities to improve and facilitate market and trade development. (*GHI has identified key policies that create an enabling environment for trade, agricultural development and food security. See below.)
IICA also helps improve export capabilities of small and medium scale producers. Using a Canadian methodology called “Export Platforms,” IICA strengthened the capacities of some 400 small and medium enterprises from Central America to export agricultural products in high demand in North America.
In collaboration with USDA, IICA consolidated the Market Information of the Americas (MIOA) that facilitates the timely and consistent exchange of market information on agricultural commodities and products among its member countries. Senior officials are trained to collect, analyze and disseminate market information, and improve their services. In Costa Rica, for example, officials are using the knowledge acquired through MIOA to assist producers by collecting price information at the farm-gate and consumer levels, developing and distributing national and international price surveys, processing production estimates and forecasts, and providing information and domestic and international market news for products of interest to Costa Rican producers. Price information is now available via mobile phones so that more than 900 farmers can access information using short term messages.
This case study is a reminder that trade is not a "zero-sum game", in which small producers are the inevitable “losers” and large producers “win” at their expense. Market and trade strengthening interventions, such as those encouraged by IICA, can help maximize the food security and development benefits of trade for producers of all scales.
*Delivering food security and development through international trade relies on an enabling policy environment that emphasizes:
- Consistent, transparent, and science-based frameworks for regulating food safety, along with reliable processes for administering sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules;
- Legal and regulatory issues play a significant role at all stages in value chain development – including inputs, production, processing, transport, and end markets;
- A focus on services including laws and regulations that can support open systems for transport and distribution services; financial services; and wholesale, retail, franchising, and other services;
- Regional integration and harmonization of trade laws and regulations, with a particular focus on how laws and regulations are being implemented; and
- Adequate and equitable intellectual rights protection is becoming increasingly important as technology, information sharing, and communication play an even larger role in value chain development.
For more, see GHI’s policy paper: International Trade and Agriculture: Supporting Value Chains to Deliver Development and Food Security.
Comments on ICN2 Framework for Action
By Global Harvest Initiative, Washington DC
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the zero draft of the ICN2 Framework for Action.
The emphasis in this document on public-private partnership is encouraging. We welcome the Framework’s recognition of the important role of science and information-based technologies in providing sufficient nutritious and affordable food and reducing food waste and loss.
As participants in the Private Sector Mechanism’s working group on nutrition, we support the comments submitted by IAFN. In addition, we would like to note the following concerns and suggestions.
Page 5, Paragraph 1
- The phrase “subordination of interests which conflicts with government policies, agreed implementation strategies, or human rights” is vague and unnecessary. The paragraph’s emphasis on “aligned efforts”, “synergy of action”, and “trust and mutual accountability" adequately capture what is intended here.
- SUGGESTION: Rewrite the last sentence of the paragraph to read: “Engagement of multiple partners requires transparency, trust, and mutual accountability.”
Page 7, section 3.1 Food Systems
Paragraphs 3-4: The references to “traditional” and “modern” supply chains in these paragraphs are ambiguous and open to value-laden interpretations. What makes a supply chain “traditional” or “modern”? Is the inputs used? The scale? The socio-economic circumstances of the actors involved? The juxtaposition of “traditional” to “modern” food systems creates a false dichotomy that does not accurately represent the complexity of how, when, and where people procure the food they consume.
SUGGESTION: Replace “traditional” and “modern” with “short” and “long”. Focusing on the length of value chains recognizes two essential complexities of the food system: (1) many food value chains have both “traditional” and “modern” elements and (2) people at all economic levels, in high-income countries and low-income countries, consume food produced from a variety of value chains
- EXAMPLE: In 2009, Land O’Lakes International Development, USAID, and CIC Agri Business, a Sri Lankan dairy company, launched a three-year dairy enhancement in Eastern Province (DEEP) program designed to introduce improved animal nutrition, care and disease management technologies and link smallholder women farmers to commercial markets. Today, relying solely on milk production from the participants in the DEEP Program, CIC Agri Business is selling 50,000 cups of yogurt a day, as well as 15,000 small packets of milk for children. Thanks to “modern” inputs of technology and financing, women working at a “traditional” scale are contributing to a longer value chain that produced dairy products consumed across Sri Lanka. (Source, GHI’s 2013 Global Agricultural Productivity Report, 28-29.)
- SUGGESTION: Replace “traditional” and “modern” with “short” and “long”. Focusing on the length of value chains recognizes two essential complexities of the food system: (1) many food value chains have both “traditional” and “modern” elements and (2) people at all economic levels, in high-income countries and low-income countries, consume food produced from a variety of value chains
- Replace supply chain with value chain in paragraphs 3 & 4. This distinction seems subtle, but in the context of this document, it is significant. Economically, socially, and nutritionally sustainable food systems need to do more than “supply” nutritious food to consumers – they must create “value” for the actors along the entire chain: from the scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who are creating more productive and sustainable technologies, to farmers and producers, aggregators and processors, risk management providers, retailers, and consumers.
- Add “consumption” to the last sentence of paragraph #4. “However, they have also increased the availability and consumption of highly process foods…”
- Paragraphs 3-4: The references to “traditional” and “modern” supply chains in these paragraphs are ambiguous and open to value-laden interpretations. What makes a supply chain “traditional” or “modern”? Is the inputs used? The scale? The socio-economic circumstances of the actors involved? The juxtaposition of “traditional” to “modern” food systems creates a false dichotomy that does not accurately represent the complexity of how, when, and where people procure the food they consume.