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Improving Nutrition through Agriculture: Policy Pathways and Challenges (Part Two)
By Ann Steensland, GHI Senior Policy Associate
In November 2013, agriculture, health, and nutrition experts met in Rome to lay the groundwork for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICSN2): a high-level government meeting focusing on global goals for reducing undernutrition and non-communicable disease, while stimulating agricultural development and productivity throughout the food value chain.
Ann Steensland, Senior Policy Associate for GHI, attended the meetings and reports that the participants were optimistic about the potential for investments in agricultural and value chain development to decrease the incidents of undernutrition.
The linkages between agriculture and nutritional status are clearest at the subsistence level, where rural families struggle with the triple burden of low agricultural productivity, low incomes, and undernutrition. If the quantity and quality of the food a family grows and consumes is improved (in a way that does not put additional burdens on women’s time and promotes their autonomy in the household) it is likely that the nutritional status of the family members will improve.
While the pathways for improving nutrition through agriculture at the subsistence level seem straightforward, successful implementation is dependent on changing and activating a number of government policies. These policies were outlined in a presentation by Dr. David Sahn, International Professor of Economics in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University. Of particular significance is the fact that comparatively little R&D has been done on high-nutrient crops that poor people traditionally consume, including millets, sorghum, or cassava. This research, he argued, should include a focus on how these crops can be grown sustainably.
Other keys to improving nutrition through agriculture delineated by Sahn included investments in small scale post-harvest storage and processing, access to land and property rights, especially for women, biofortification, and upgrading the quality and safety of food sold in traditional markets.
“The challenge,” said Sahn and his colleagues, “is to promote sustainable intensification based on crops (and livestock) that are important to the food systems of the poor rather than crowding them out.” Policies that “promote conditions for yield enhancement, while maintaining crop and food system diversity, ought to be a priority,” they added. (See Prabhu Pingali, Katie Ricketts, and David Sahn, “Agriculture for Nutrition: Getting Policies Right,” 3.)
Participants at the conference had no illusions about the complexities of improving nutrition through agriculture and along the value chain. Nonetheless, there was broad consensus that this is a challenge that can and must be met. Government representatives from around the world will gather in Rome in November 2014 to discuss pathways for doing so.