Developing capacity for strengthening food security and nutrition

Caucasus and Central Asian countries are strongly committed to promoting food security and nutrition among their populations. Although good progress has been made by most countries in the region, food insecurity and malnutrition remain relatively high and greater efforts are needed to address their root causes. In this regard, it is important to consider that while undernutrition may currently be the main concern in region, obesity is expected to be the key dietary health problem by the year 2030.

Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been facing significant challenges in achieving the required improvements in nutrition. Despite considerable economic growth and improvements in household welfare in recent years, the countries remain highly vulnerable to weather shocks and the broader effects of climate change, which adversely affect the economy and the population’s nutrition status. Another major issue concerns the fact that the countries are landlocked: although the agricultural sectors in all three economies have significant export potential, trade has been hampered by the lack of efficient and reliable transport systems and adequate infrastructure. Currently, the countries depend to a significant extent on imports and remittances to maintain their food security.  

The agricultural sector has, however, undergone significant changes over the last two decades and now provides employment to a substantial number of people. Yet at the same time, wide gaps between the urban and rural populations in terms of income, poverty level, food security and nutrition, and access to social services have caused substantial migration from rural areas to neighbouring countries. Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the major sources of labour migration in the region, as well as the largest recipients of remittances, mainly from the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan. This could be an enormous source of investment in the countries and the agricultural sector, but in practice, the vast majority of remittance flows at destination are spent on primary needs, while a much smaller part goes to savings and investments in rural areas.

Another issue hampering rural development concerns the generally low level of social payments: often these are well below 50 percent of average earnings, which is insufficient to lift households out of poverty. In addition, there are significant issues regarding access to social programmes and their coverage, especially in terms of their ability to reach the neediest and high exclusion rates of unemployed people, labour migrants and women exist.

In order to address these challenges and to create an enabling environment for tackling malnutrition, an integrated approach and a joint social and developmental effort are needed. The FAO project “Developing Capacity for Strengthening Food Security and Nutrition in Selected Countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia” aims to operationalize the linkages between social protection, nutrition and agriculture by carrying out six pilot projects. These will provide the evidence base on the impact of an integrated approach on development outcomes. The results will feed into key policy, legislative and programming processes at the country, regional and global levels.