Segunda Conferencia Internacional sobre Nutrición (CIN-2), 19-21 de noviembre de 2014

Impact Pathways from Agricultural Research to Improved Nutrition and Health: Literature Analysis and Research Priorities

Patrick Webb

Investment in agriculture is widely seen as “a critically important opportunity for reducing malnutrition.” (Herforth et al. 2012) There have been repeated calls for the international community to place a higher priority on “unleashing” (IFPRI 2012), “leveraging” (Pell at al. 2011), “reshaping” (Fan and Pandya-Lorch 2012), or “realizing” (IFAD 2011) the opportunities offered by agriculture to enhance nutrition and health. The donor community has responded, bringing a larger budget share to bear on the agriculture sector since the mid-2000s, reversing the steep decline of the previous decade (OECD 2012). One of the stated aims of the renewed focus on agriculture is to encourage agricultural policies and programs to become “nutrition-sensitive” (BMGF 2012; USAID 2011), or more specifically, to make “agriculture work for nutrition” (FAO 2012).

The question is, how? Against a backdrop of demands for greater accountability, many donors and national governments are calling for evidence-based programming (Mallet et al. 2012). This has fueled a search for rigorous empirical information that can inform policymakers on what kinds of agriculture to invest in (through research or programming) that will have positive benefits for nutrition and health, particularly among mothers and children. So far, that search has come up short. According to Thompson and Amoroso (2010), there is still “insufficient understanding of the evidence base on how best to achieve this potential.” Indeed, an assessment of 23 studies of agriculture interventions, commissioned by DFID found “no evidence of impact on prevalence rates of stunting, wasting and underweight among children under five.” (Masset et al. 2011) Thus, knowledge about agriculture’s impact on nutrition can be summarized in the words of Hawkes et al. (2012): “Despite the clear potential for agricultural change to improve nutrition in low and middle income countries, the evidence base for this relationship is poor. Recent systematic reviews of studies which have evaluated agricultural interventions for improving nutrition reveal little strong evidence of impact, and a need for more and better designed research.”

This paper contributes to ongoing work at many institutions aimed at identifying priority knowledge gaps, determining the best research approaches needed to fill those gaps, and exploring how to better support policy and programme implementation with sound empirical evidence of ‘what works’. The paper has four parts. First, a discussion of approaches used in conceptualizing causal pathways from agriculture to nutrition and health. Second, an overview of research-based evidence on agriculture impacts on nutrition and health. Third, a discussion of knowledge gaps and associated priority research questions. Finally, conclusions on proposed priority research questions.

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