Knowledge for Development

Improving nutrition outcomes

Food and nutrition security is a global challenge which is increasingly engaging the attention of international, regional and national policy makers, researchers and academicians, farmers, the private sector and the development community. While, achieving food security has always been a priority for many, within recent times, concerns have grown about under and over-nutrition, especially linked to a failure to adequately address stunting and micro-nutrient deficiency and a rise in non-communicable disease. Understanding the nexus between agriculture, food and nutrition has become a research and development priority. For children, there is a particular focus on the first 1000 days from conception to age two, as poor nutrition in this period has particularly damaging long-term effects. Persuading politicians to focus on nutrition is difficult as effects are often hidden or delayed, but demonstrating the cost of failing to act is crucial to raising the profile of the nutrition agenda in policy and decision making.

There are many practical issues to ensuring coherence in  agriculture, nutrition and related policies and programmes. Reducing hunger and improving nutrition outcomes require inter-linked thinking and multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approaches as well as multi-stakeholder engagement. Agriculture and nutrition researchers need to work together for tackling problems such as micronutrient deficiencies and developing solutions such as bio-fortification. The private sector also needs to be mobilized to become more engaged in addressing this global challenge. Through articles, documents and links, this folder explores both the emerging priorities in agriculture and nutrition research and what is needed for policy, research and industry stakeholders to work toward  improved nutrition outcomes.

In one lead article, Jan Meerman, Food and Agriculture Organization, and Noora-Lisa Aberman, International Food Policy Research Institute, discuss how to create an enabling environment to take forward these ideas. They stress the challenge of overcoming the low policy visibility of nutrition related issues and the need to coordinate across multiple government sectors to achieve progress.

In another  lead article, Kimberley Keeton and John McDermott of CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health describe key initiatives for boosting nutritious food systems including smallholder food production, bio-fortification and food safety.. They emphasise that researchers can combine existing evidence for improving nutrition through agriculture, including: the production  of diverse foods and to inform food policies.

The documents and links in this folder explore the scientific focus of nutrition research and its interface with policy interventions that address the complex policy interactions involved in improving nutritious outcomes.

This folder was prepared by CABI, KIT and CTA in May 2014. 

Improving nutrition through agriculture: priorities and approaches

by Kimberly Keeton and John McDermott, CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, USA.
In this new lead article, Kimberley Keeton and John McDermott describe the complex interplay of malnutrition determinants and stress the need for multi-sectoral policy and programme responses where agriculture has a critical role in providing healthy diets. Government and research should embrace nutrition through three areas: knowledge and evidence, politics and governance, and capacity and resources. Keeton and McDermott describe several known agricultural strategies to boost more nutritious food systems. One approach is to improve household productivity of nutritious foods by targeting small farms where utilising seasonal crop production of traditional and local foods must be encouraged. Another possible cost-effective strategy for reducing micronutrient deficiency is through bio-fortification of commonly-consumed staple foods (breeding crops with enhanced levels of bioavailable nutrients). Yet another approach is to enhance post-harvest and food safety knowledge, process design and efficiency are translated into improved nutritious and safe foods at the 'fork' level.  05/06/2014

Making nutrition a national priority: a few policy process examples

by Jan Meerman, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Rome, Italy and Noora-Lisa Aberman, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Lilongwe, Malawi
Tackling malnutrition effectively requires sustained action across sectors, strong leadership, coalitions and high levels of both institutional and operational capacity. When these needs are met, countries may find themselves positioned to scale up nutrition interventions and meet the challenges of food and nutrition insecurity, high food prices and other shocks. Unfortunately, many governments lack the capacity to implement commitments to achieve these goals. In these countries, nutrition is stuck in a “low-priority cycle”. 05/06/2014
This comprehensive study by Colin Khoury of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and co-authors from related research institutes provides evidence of change in the relative importance of different crop plants in national food supplies worldwide over the past 50 years. This study of the global food supply thoroughly documents and confirms for the first time what experts have long suspected: over the last five decades, human diets around the world have grown ever more similar – by a global average of 36 % – and the trend shows no signs of slowing, with major consequences for human nutrition and global food security. The study suggests that growing reliance on a few food crops may also accelerate the worldwide rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which are strongly affected by dietary change and have become major health problems. Many crops of considerable regional importance – including cereals like sorghum, millets and rye, as well as root crops such as sweet potato, cassava and yam – have lost ground. Many other locally significant grain and vegetable crops – for which globally comparable data are not available – have suffered the same fate. Another danger of a more homogeneous global food basket is that it makes agriculture more vulnerable to major threats like drought, insect pests and diseases, which are likely to become worse in many parts of the world as a result of climate change.   Editor’s note – Can the research and policy communities afford not to consider the globalization of diets and the reliance on fewer crops in more depth? The implications for the future of food and nutrition security are far reaching, both for the economies and natural environment. Similar research effort should be extended to livestock – see for example Patterson’s article. A few weeks ago I read that Chinese researchers have begun to consider the implications for food and farming of the loss of indigenous genetic resources which are more resilient.  Other relevant information on this subject: Press release,  CIAT News, Round-up and an article in CrossMark Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security.(CIAT, 29/01/2014) 13/05/2014
In this article, published in Chronica Horticulturae, the journal of the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS), tropical agronomist Gérard Grubben from the Netherlands and co-founders of the Eastwest Seed Company sketches the scope of vegetable production for the domestic African markets and its importance for improvement of nutrition and health for the poorer population. Grubben notes that emphasis has remained on research and development of energy rich staple crops (cereals, tubers, pulses) and cash crops. Compared to tropical Asia, the vegetable sector in Africa is lagging behind as a result of weak research, breeding, training and extension services, an insufficient seed distribution network and low purchasing power. The author believes many policy makers ignore the nutritional and economic value of vegetables. For example, in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Senegal, high-tech vegetable production for export to Europe and the Arabia Peninsula or for the small supermarket segment in the regional big cities has been supported with ample donor funding. The huge traditional domestic market, of crucial importance for the nutrition of the increasingly urbanised population, is almost devoid of public support. Gérard Grubben is sharing a copy of the article on our website.   (via, 02/05/2014) 30/06/2014