Agricultural extension and advisory services (AEAS) as well as community workers can be key agents for the delivery of nutrition knowledge and practices to rural communities. They reach and interact closely with farmers or women groups in different settings and can sensitize them on nutrition sensitive agriculture and diets. Furthermore, they can facilitate local initiatives and facilitate coordination among local actors related to improving nutrition. In the Nutrition and Mountain Agroecosystems Project in Ethiopia, Nepal, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Peru, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), the following initiatives implemented by AEAS proved to be particularly useful:
- awareness raising on nutrition (curricula, school gardens, preparing traditional dishes);
- sustainable small-scale farming (organic farming, compost making, nutrition gardens);
- diversification of home-based food production (fruit and vegetable nurseries, promoting legumes, low-cost greenhouses);
- small-scale animal husbandry (rearing poultry, goats, fish, guinea pigs; honey production);
- post-harvest handling (processing at household level, low-cost drying, safe food handling, food preservation).
This experience shows that diversifying farms in an ecological way helps to increase farm incomes, strengthen the role of women, improve family health, protect natural resources and increase resilience to market fluctuations and climate change. Producing and selling a variety of nutritious products not only improves the nutritional situation of local communities, but also provides business opportunities for farmers (particularly for women), agribusinesses, processors, traders, retailers and other stakeholders. In addition, it serves local policy goals related to improving health, alleviating rural poverty and reducing environmental impact. AEAS can therefor play a convening and facilitating role to bring the different stakeholders (farmers and farmer groups, municipalities and district authorities, businesses and civil society organizations) together to jointly advance nutrition sensitive agriculture practices and value chains, and to raise consumer awareness.
For more details, please refer to the attached short paper prepared for the Sustainable Food Systems Program's Technical Workshop on Sustainable diets in the context of sustainable food systems.
In my opinion the discussion paper is one of the most useful CFS publications ever - comprehensive, analytical, practical, and to the point. A big "thanks" to the working group!
Helvetas has worked for decades on inclusive value chains in over 30 countries, and more recently applied a specific nutrition focus. Since most value chains are driven by private sector entities that often focus on specific commodities (in order to use economies of scale), a big challenge is to identify the business case for diversification and for the production of nutritious foods. The example of an organic and fairtrade rice project in India and Thailand shows that diversification into nutritious crops grown in rotation with the focus crop enables farmers to improve diets as well as incomes ("climbing the value ladder"), provides business opportunities to local processors and traders (e.g. selling pulses and vegetables in local markets) and even drives innovation among specialized companies (e.g. launching rice-pulse mixtures).
Nutrition sensitive approaches seem easier to implement in initiatives driven by development actors. The Nutrition in Mountain Agroecosystems Project under the Swiss Global Program Food Security successfully promotes diversified ecological farming and value chains by assisting rural service providers and advocating for conducive environments. Both projects simultaneously pursue the three pathways indicated in the paper: raising smallholder incomes, increasing their own production of nutritious foods and increasing their availability in local and regional markets.
In both cases (private sector and development initiatives), awareness raising among producers AND consumers is key in order to ensure that people increasingly choose nutritious and sustainably produced food. Initiatives to raise "food literacy" among consumers, such as the ones launched under the Sustainable Food Systems Program (Food for Life, My Food Skills and Sustainable Gastronomy Sector) are important to enhance the demand-pull that in the end determines whether or not producers and businesses engage in nutritious food value chains.
Last but not the least a hypothesis that may further add value to the paper: Scaling-up of sustainable food value chains and systems that are "good for people and planet" requires four factors to work together: 1) Know-how at the production and value chain level, 2) Market demand, 3) a Conducive policy environment, and 4) Multi-stakeholder collaboration (see discussion paper of the Swiss National FAO Committee).
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Reducing the use of agrochemicals plays a key role in protecting and promoting pollinators. This, however, is a joint responsibility of farmers, scientists, businesses, policy makers, retailers and consumers. Various measures have been identified to reduce the use of pesticides in agriculture, including agro-ecological farming system design, crop rotations and mixed cropping, setting conducive policies and promoting organic farming (for details see the briefing paper: Reducing pesticide use and risks - What action is needed? http://assets.helvetas.org/downloads/briefing_paper_pesticide_reduction_...).
A very promising approach is to replace pesticides by biocontrol means. Recently there have been major developments in this sector (see http://www.ibma-global.org/). In a panel discussion with representatives from the biocontrol industry, civil society, retailers and policy makers we look at the potential of biocontrol to reduce pesticide use, and how to further enhance its use (see www.helvetas.ch/pesticides). Check the site for updates on this topic!
Senior Advisor Sustainable Agriculture
HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation