Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


Innovations in agriculture to improve nutrition. Share your success stories

The primary role of agriculture is to grow food for human consumption, and the agriculture sector has been largely successful in producing sufficient food to meet the energy (or calorie) needs of the rising global population. However the persistence of undernutrition, and food and nutrition insecurity in many parts of the world, especially sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, highlights that considerable progress is still required to ensure equitable access to a diversified and nutritious diet.

Agricultural policies have historically supported the production of key staple grains such as rice, maize and wheat. While these staple crops are good sources of dietary energy, they typically fail to provide sufficient micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and therefore only form part of what is considered a nutritious diet. Recently there has been a significant effort to identify agricultural policies and practices that can improve both food and nutrition security.

Many interventions in agriculture have been designed to have an impact on nutrition outcomes. Home and community gardens, support for livestock and aquaculture, cash-cropping and cultivation of biofortified crops are some good examples. However, we are certain that beyond these well-known agricultural interventions, it is likely that there are many exciting, local and grassroot-led innovations in agriculture and livestock/fisheries production, which currently do not have the necessary evidence base of their impact on nutritional status that would justify their upscaling and broader implementation.

To learn more about such innovative approaches, Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) programme is engaged in cooperation with FAO’s FSN Forum in running this online discussion.

LANSA is a multi-partner research effort led by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India. The focus of LANSA is to understand the role of agricultural policies and practices in improving nutrition in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. A key part of LANSA is the involvement of local partners to conduct research through a competitive grant funding scheme, the second round of which will take place in July 2015.

Goal of the consultation: While we are aware of some agricultural innovations that may support nutrition outcomes we do not know them all! So the goal of this consultation is to ask for your input, based on your expert knowledge, to identify potential ideas of innovations in agriculture that could promote better nutrition of the population in the South Asian region. We specifically are looking for new interventions in agriculture that require formative research to aid their design, and/or research to understand their feasibility before being tested in large intervention studies. We also have an eye on the future and on the likely impact of environmental change on agricultural production. Ideally, the consultation will provide a list of promising interventions in agriculture with a potential for upscaling and that could benefit from further support.

Based on your knowledge and experience (in agriculture, food systems, nutrition, or even just on time spent growing your own food), the questions for this consultation are:

  1. Are you aware of an untested innovation in South Asian agriculture that has the potential to have a major impact on nutrition and health in the region?
  2. Are you aware of a tested or untested innovation in Africa or other world region that could be introduced or adapted to the South Asian region and has the potential to improve nutrition outcomes in the South Asian context?
  3. Among these innovations, are there any interventions in agriculture that might also help to reduce the likely impact of multiple environmental changes on agricultural production in South Asia?

These are challenging questions and we are looking forward to your views and opinions to help us define the priorities for this research call. We really hope that by using this consultative platform we will reach out and elicit responses from you whatever your background or expertise.
We need innovative thinkers like you to solve some of the world’s largest problems. And there is always the chance that your ideas will drive a whole new research agenda!

We are really looking forward to reading your responses. Thank you for your time and for sharing your knowledge and expertise!

Best wishes,

Professor M S Swaminathan
Founder-Chairman MSSRF &
LANSA Consortium Advisory Group Member

Dr. Alan Dangour
Reader - LSHTM
LANSA Pillar 3 Lead Researcher

This activity is now closed. Please contact [email protected] for any further information.

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Madeleine Smith

The SPRING Project - John Snow International- Research and Training Insitute
United States of America

The USAID funded Strengthening Results, Partnerships, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally project staff had the opportunity to visit the USAID Feed the Future project: USAID | Yaajeende  in Senegal, which is led by the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA), and focused on nutrition led agriculture. There are many successful innovations in this program, but one that stands out is the Community Based Solution Providers (CBSP) approach, which uses a network of community-based service providers and volunteers to sell and promote nutrition-sensitive products, services, and training. The CBSPs are selected by the communities where they live, and either provide or facilitate access to services and credit by working with larger input suppliers and financial institutions. The CBSPs buy in bulk, and are able to offer products in smaller quantities, and facilitate group purchases and access to credit in order to reach more vulnerable households with limited assets and purchasing power.

Some examples of items and services sold include horticulture and cereal crop seeds, iodized salt, bio-fortified and enriched flours, fresh vegetables, and animal feed. Other services provided include providing or facilitating access to finance and business planning, traditional and mechanized ripping, and crop insurance. An initial evaluation of the CBSP approach shows that individual CBSP micro-enterprises are profitable, and there is growing demand for nutrition-sensitive agricultural products and services. CBSPs have formed regional networks and leadership structures, which will assume the management, leadership, and quality assurance roles, as well as ensure the sustainability and continued growth of the networks.

Please see these project links for additional information:


Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this highly interesting discussion.

Madeleine Smith

Agriculture Advisor

Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally

email: [email protected]


Higher welfare farming usually produces animal products of higher nutritional value

Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to this important research area and discussion. I offer two case studies, one from Asia and one Africa, showing that low technology, often low cost interventions can improve the nutritional status of people and be robust in the face of environmental change. Improved animal welfare is an outcome of these farming systems, and can also act as an indicator of farming that is better for people and the planet.

China case study: dual purpose chickens (attachement 1)

On this farm just outside Beijing, a slower-growing, dual purpose traditional breed of chicken is used to rear males chickens for meat and females are raised primarily for eggs and then used for meat at the end of their laying lives. The products receive premium prices at market due to their high quality. The farm is free range, offering higher welfare to the animals, which enjoy good health outcomes: mortality is low, and antibiotic use is low. It is also likely to be environmentally robust as the feeds are largely grown locally and the manure and crop residues are digested to produce energy. Water pollution is also low.

This model of farming could be applied elsewhere, bringing many benefits. In the UK, research shows that chicken and eggs from free-range and slow-growing breeds are of higher nutritional value than from intensive farming of fast-growing breeds. Meat from male chickens also has superior nutritional value. The research demonstrating this is found in attachment 3 and found online:

Research into the nutritional value of the meat from these end of lay hens and males; and the eggs from this farming system would be of value, to support roll-out of this farming style. The successes of this farming model can be used to secure good food and farming elsewhere. It can be used to resist industrial-scale intensive farming with fast growing breeds; wasteful practices; high grain use and associated vulnerability to feed price-shocks, heat and water stress; higher pollution and poorer outcomes for animals, farmers' health and livelihoods. Combining chicken farming with agro-forestry is an additional step that could bring multiple benefits and is worthy of field trials.

Ethiopia case study: water storage (attachment 2)

In semi-arid areas of Africa, access to 
simple technology for storing water can dramatically improve the lives of people and farm animals. This study (2012) found that year-round access to water increased farm yields up to ten-fold, improved food security and nutrition, and farm animal welfare. It also reduced poverty in small-scale farming in the highlands of Ethiopia.

This study shows a mixed farming system where water harvesters have been used to lift farmers from requiring food assistance each year, to being fully independent, productive and self-reliant for food most years. Through saving water for irrigation of crops through the dry seasons, farmers have been able to secure crop productivity for their families and introduce livestock into their farming, adding manure for fuel and fertiliser; draught for ploughing and water carrying; as well as social and economic gains. The food security, nutrition and financial status of these small-scale family farmers have been advanced dramatically through this simple, low cost, easy to maintain technology. It may be adaptable to benefit other semi-arid areas, and areas where the summer melt waters from the Himalayas reduce as the glaciers reduce with global warming.

I hope you enjoy the materials attached and please do contact me for further information. 

Best wishes,

Emily Lewis-Brown,

[email protected]

on behalf of Compassion in World Farming: 




Edye Kuyper

UC Davis, Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Systems (INGENAES) project
United States of America

Reviews of existing evidence on the ability of food-based interventions to improve nutrition consistently find that nutrition education (or its absence) is related to the project success in increasing access to healthy, diverse foods. This is also bearing true in high-income countries, where evaluations of efforts to improve access to nutrient-dense foods in low-income neighborhoods are not resulting in the intended dietary improvements.  

Yet innovation in the area of food and nutrition education is often an afterthought, and is typically underfunded. The nutrition community often bemoans a perceived inability to compete with the well-funded corporate advertising campaigns seeking to sell less healthy products. Education efforts also tend to be poorly conceived, inadequately tested among the target audience who may also receive insufficient exposure to the promotional messages.

One promising innovation is FAO’s ENACT course now being implemented in 14 African countries.  Participating undergraduates studying fields as diverse as medicine, agriculture, and nutrition are now equipped to effectively communicate and teach about food and nutrition.

In select African and Asian countries, Alive & Thrive has conducted well designed behavior change campaigns via diverse channels, including mass media as well as interpersonal counseling. This multifaceted approach is demonstrating positive results at scale.

The ability of well-designed food and nutrition education campaigns to deliver desired health and nutrition impacts depends on increased funding and research to these activities. The required investment should not be a deterrent, however: if marketing and promotion were not useful mechanisms for achieving increased consumption of specific foods, lucrative companies would not spend billions of dollars advertising their products. 

Good Farm Management Practices, including Fertilizer Deep Placement, in Bangladesh – Improving Nutrition and Gender Equity

The International Fertilizer Development Center has been active in Bangladesh for over 35 years – working with farmers to increase productivity, advocating for enabling policies and introducing good farm management practices and technologies such as fertilizer deep placement (FDP). FDP accomplishes what agriculture must do in a changing climate: lower pollution, increase efficiency, reduce costs and increase yields. Instead of simply broadcasting prilled urea into a rice paddy (the traditional practice), farmers place small fertilizer briquettes into the wet soil between rice plants. Rice yields increase by an average of 20 percent, farmers use one-third less fertilizer, and nutrient losses to air and water drop by half.

Based on this success, IFDC’s focus now extends beyond rice production to fruit, vegetable and maize crops. Vegetable cultivation in Bangladesh heavily features women as producers.  In 2013, IFDC partnered with the Walmart Foundation to bring best farm management practices, including FDP technology, to 40,000 Bangladeshi women farmers. The goal is to empower women to grow and market more nutritious, high-value vegetables and fruits. This crop diversification provides variety for primarily rice-based diets, which inherently lack balanced nutrients necessary for human health.

Income increases for women farmers utilizing FDP in vegetable crops have averaged U.S. $202 per farm per season to date. Empowering women not only boosts family income but also promotes ground-level nutrition by increasing the amount of healthy food available for home consumption. The project also is developing a private sector, women-led supply system to ensure an adequate supply of FDP briquettes.

Namita, a project trainee from Jessore Sadar, says “The knowledge I gained from the training on FDP technology and nutrition has allowed me to farm vegetables in a new and effective way. I have transformed into a professional vegetable farmer. Now I can help my husband in his business and contribute to my family’s income.” 

Project results are still being collected. It is expected that women empowered through these activities will be positioned for greater involvement in family resource and business decisions, positively impacting family income, nutrition and child health and education.

Dear Colleagues,

As our consultation period draws to a close, we take this opportunity to thank you for your fantastic contributions to this important debate.  We are delighted that we’ve engendered such a tremendous response and very grateful to you all for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences.

There is clearly a lot of knowledge already in this field, and there are also many innovations in agriculture and the food system more broadly, which have been tested and proposed for further research.  We are grateful for your willingness to share your ideas with us in such a collegiate manner.  We will aim to draw together the general themes and specific ideas generated by the consultation in a single document in the next few weeks so please do keep an eye on the forum page.

Moving forward, the Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) programme plans to launch a Call for Research under its second Responsive Window in July 2015.  We hope to attract research proposals seeking to conduct high quality formative and feasibility research on ‘Innovations in Agriculture for Nutrition’ in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.  We shall use your ideas to shape the Call for Proposals.

We hope that the research funded by LANSA will generate sufficient evidence to support the future scale-up and formal testing of innovations to improve nutrition and food security in the Region.  Please do consider this opportunity and share it with your colleagues when it is announced.

Finally, we thank you again for your support and contributions to this consultation.  It has been an extremely rewarding and refreshing process.

With very best wishes,

Prof. M S Swaminathan

Dr. Alan Dangour

I have read with a lot of interest the different contributions, learnt a lot and had the pleasure to come across old friends. But I wonder if innovation in agriculture (instead of a food system approach) was not too narrow an entry point. We must move beyond the classical supply-driven value chain/commodity approach and revisit production systems from the demand side; re-localize development efforts, support family agriculture and aim for resilient food systems which make the best of existing resources (including indigenous knowledge).

Local government – and in  an increasingly urbanized world, cities – should take the lead and engage in sustainable territorial planning in consultation with all relevant actors,  aiming at food security and environmental sustainability in both rural and urban areas, while protecting and creating decent jobs and fulfilling human rights. Economics are important but there are only one dimension; health staff, sociologists, agronomists, environmentalists and economists must join forces to address complexity and learn together from existing practice.

Food-based nutrition education (in particular cooking demonstrations) can lead to changes in household food production. The promotion of sustainable diets constitutes the logical entry point and goal for sustainable food systems and a long-term solution to malnutrition.

Show us the way!

It is great to hear so many stories of improved agriculture, improved strains, better seeds and biofortification.  What concerns me is that we are not talking enough about the pathways from agriculture to better nutrition.  It is not at all clear that increased productivity, greater income, improved quality or variety of food production necessarily result in improvements in diet and health.  We need to know and show why and how this happens or does not happen. 

There has been some mention in this forum discussion of promising avenues for converting greater availability into better dietary practice:  for example behaviour change approaches, nutrition education, involving women, enabling people to make their own decisions and hands-on home-linked school education.  We need to do much much more in these areas, and integrate it better with the food security initiatives it supplements and catalyses. 

We also need to test what we do, making sure that these approaches get their own impact evaluation, quite distinct from agricultural/horticultural outputs and availability, so that we can show what mix of actions can best influence dietary change and make it last.

We are not alone.  The major players in the fields of agriculture and nutrition have not yet sorted out the answers to the how question.  What is very positive is that the challenge has been proclaimed, not least by this forum, and that we are beginning to try to meet it.

Jane Sherman, Nutrition Education Consultant, FAO, Rome

G.N.V. Brahmam


There is nothing new, in the approach of home gardening & Social marketing in alleviating malnutrition, especially MNDs like VAD. But the fact is, its current application in the community is rather sub-optima. In order to emphasise the need, I am herewith attaching two publications (though pretty old), which are based on excellent work carried out by my colleagues, decades ago.

Dr. G.N.V. Brahmam, M.B.,B.S., D.P.H.