It seems a priori obvious that agriculture and nutrition go hand in hand: agriculture produces most of what we consume and it is indeed food that is the basis for proper nutrition…Yet in many countries, areas of high agricultural production are also those with the highest levels of undernutrition . Nothing is therefore automatic!Consequently, just as agriculture is not synonymous with food security, agricultural development does not automatically lead to an improvement in nutrition. While nutrition is today an increasing focus of attention at international level, particularly in the agricultural sector where there are more and more initiatives combining agricultural, food and nutrition objectives, what is actually the case?
How to enable agriculture to contribute to the fight against malnutrition?
At each stage of the agricultural and food cycle (production, harvesting, storage, processing, marketing, preparation, consumption), it is necessary to take account of nutritional considerations in order to improve the impact that agriculture has on nutrition. Indeed, taking account of nutrition from the moment when agricultural policies and programs are designed is the best way to ensure that agriculture plays a positive role in supporting nutrition.
Priority must be given to foods that meet local demand (and not to products for international markets, such as flowers or biofuels). These foods must be sufficiently nutritious and diversified to meet the specific food, caloric and nutritional requirements of each age group, especially those of young children and pregnant and lactating women. Production must be diversified: indeed, diversifying agricultural production generally has a positive impact on incomes, the environment (biodiversity) and nutrition, as a number of studies have shown, for example by FAO. The diversified food products must subsequently be processed and developed locally, making sure that their nutritional richness is preserved, then made available on the local market at an affordable price for all categories of the population, whatever their level of wealth. It is also essential to deliver nutritional education in order to ensure that food purchases and the preparation and consumption of meals provide optimal nutritional benefits and a balanced diet to each individual.
What happens in the field?
The results were positive: nutrition is increasingly being taken into account by the farming world in each of these countries, despite strong political, institutional, technical and budgetary constraints.
Yet certain constraints continue to hinder the nutritional potential of agriculture:
- Agricultural policies take little interest in nutrition. Consequently, financing for agricultural programs that are responsive to nutrition still remains grossly inadequate;
- Nutritional and dietary intake indicators are rarely mainstreamed into agricultural information and monitoring-evaluation systems, whereas these indicators are crucial to allow decision-makers to take nutritional issues into account;
- Ministries of Agriculture have a limited level of understanding and interest in terms of nutritional issues;
- The intersectoral coordination of nutrition between agriculture and other sectors is either inexistent or weak.
The experiences of Burkina Faso, Kenya and Peru do, however, show that if there is strong political support, with determination, it is possible to overcome the constraints that exist.
In Kenya and Burkina Faso, for example, nutrition has been mainstreamed into the agricultural sector agenda, especially via the definition of agricultural investment plans that are responsive to nutrition. In Burkina Faso, nutrition lessons are currently being set up at the National School of Agriculture, which trains agronomists, and for several years now, nutritional indicators have been mainstreamed into agricultural surveys and statistics.
In Peru, the interministerial coordination mechanism for nutrition works very effectively and has yielded significant results in just a few years: chronic malnutrition fell by 10 points in 5 years, from 28.7% to 18.1% between 2007 and 2012.
The strengthening of the nutritional mandates of Ministries of Agriculture has allowed the remarkable work of the Domestic Economy Department in Kenya, and the recent creation of a Department of Food and Promotion of Nutritional Quality in Burkina Faso. Finally, in Peru, “results-based budgetization”, which links the allocation of grants to several Ministries achieving common objectives, is extremely interesting for nutrition. All these experiences are described in the country case studies (links below).
It is possible to improve the positive impact that agriculture has on nutrition
Nutrition is a human right and a priority development issue. The continuing high levels of undernutrition are a clear sign of the lack of access to fundamental human rights and of an unacceptable level of inequalities. Nutrition was long neglected by development policies, yet it is an essential indicator of overall development, as it reflects the convergent results of many sectoral policies.
For a large number of countries, agriculture is today an essential sector for the fight against malnutrition, especially in rural areas. At each stage of the agricultural cycle, it is possible to integrate nutrition in order to optimize the impacts that agriculture has on nutrition.
 The Sikasso (Mali) “paradox”: Why isn’t “producing more” a sufficient means for feeding the children of farmers ?, S. DURY, I. Bocoum, CIRAD, 2012;
– Action against Hunger (ACF): “Sowing the Seeds of Good Nutrition”, based on three case studies conducted in Burkina Faso, Kenya and Peru, in partnership with GRET and CIRAD. http://www.actioncontrelafaim.org/fr/content/semer-les-graines-d-une-bonne-nutrition.
– Expériences d’ACF : Presentation of some programs that align food security interventions with nutritional targets (in French).
former Director of Advocacy for Food Security at Action against Hunger