Defining nutrition-sensitive agriculture
According to the 2013 Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition, nutrition-sensitive agriculture consists of interventions or programmes in the agriculture sector that address the underlying determinants of fetal and child nutrition and development—food security; adequate caregiving resources at the maternal, household and community levels; and access to health and a safe and hygienic environment—and incorporate specific nutrition goals and actions. Read more
In developing countries, 45 percent of deaths in children under the age of five are linked to undernutrition. Undernutrition affects billions of people worldwide, with irreversible consequences for mental and physical health and development, which in turn impact individuals’ ability to reach their full potential and lift themselves out of poverty. With the majority of rural poor engaged in agriculture, farming has a recognized role to play in preventing malnutrition, as a provider of food, livelihoods and income. However, increasing farmers’ incomes and agricultural production isn’t enough – farmers and their families must have access to nutritious foods that meet their needs, as well as the knowledge to make informed choices about diverse diets and other nutrition-enhancing behaviours.
The P4P approach provides a range of opportunities to fully incorporate nutrition-sensitive efforts. Though the design of the P4P pilot did not explicitly include a nutrition component on a global level, some linkages occurred naturally in the field. These linkages have provided a learning opportunity on how future nutrition-sensitive approaches can be strengthened. Efforts have naturally developed across the value chain, from input supply, production and postharvest handling to processing, distribution and food utilization.
Seeds, storage and production skills, more nutritious crops
More nutritious staple crops have been introduced to smallholder farmers through the input supply channel, and farmers have been encouraged to increase production and consumption of crops high in nutritional value. Additionally, an emphasis on conservation agriculture in countries such as Nicaragua and Zambia aims to ensure the health of soils, which can increase the presence of nutrients in crops.
[photo|647391] In West Africa, WFP began purchasing a local variety of cowpea called niébé which is high in protein and nutrients. Niébé is traditionally grown by women farmers in small plots for household consumption. Encouraging women to increase production of niébéwhile teaching them about its health benefits can lead to its increased availability and consumption in households and communities. P4P-supported farmers have received support to produce other nutritious foods as well, including soya in Afghanistan, and groundnuts in Malawi and Zambia or sale in local markets.
Some smallholder farmers are now growing biofortified varieties of local crops – such as maize, beans and sweet potatoes. Biofortified crops are traditionally bred to contain higher quantities of micronutrients. In Nicaragua, efforts are underway to introduce two varieties of biofortified beans produced by the Instituto Nicaraguense de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA; Nicaraguan Institute for Agricultural Technology). The beans, which contain 60 percent more iron and zinc than traditional varieties, will be purchased by WFP and used in school meals. P4P is also collaborating with HarvestPlus to increase the availability of biofortified crops in Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia. Smallholder farmers produce these crops and sell the surplus back to HarvestPlus as seed, or small quantities to WFP for food assistance – primarily school feeding and mother and child health and nutrition initiatives.
An emphasis on crop quality and safety has raised awareness about the dangers of consuming unsafe food and improved the quality of smallholders’ produce, including that which is retained for household consumption. There has been a particular focus on reducing aflatoxin, a chemical compound unsafe for human consumption, which is also thought to contribute to stunting in children.
Linking farmers with millers and processors
[photo|647393]In many countries, P4P-supported smallholder farmers have been linked to millers and other processors who buy their surplus crops for the production of fortified foods such as flour blend and high energy biscuits. In Guatemala, a project under the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement is linking smallholder farmers to agro-industry companies that supply processed nutrient-rich food to WFP for distribution to at-risk populations. A similar project is carried out in Afghanistan, where P4P provides support along the entire value chain – from farmers to local millers and processors. Locally-produced wheat and soya are used in the production of fortified flour, high-energy biscuits and lipid-based nutritional supplements. Smallholder farmers have also been linked to private sector millers and processors in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Rwanda.
Distributing locally-sourced foods through school meals
[photo|647390]By linking local agricultural production to school meals, Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) capitalizes on the traditional benefits of School Feeding programmes and multiplies advantages for rural communities. HGSF contributes to the diversity and freshness of the food basket served in schools, which can improve students’ nutritional intake. Micronutrient powders can also be added to the school meals to combat micronutrient deficiencies as needed. Strengthening the nutritional value of school meals is one of the ways in which nutrition-sensitive agriculture can play a critical role in contributing to larger social protection initiatives.
In Honduras, school meals help improve schoolchildren’s food security and nutritional intake by providing them with diversified menus containing a variety of micronutrients (essential vitamins and minerals) based on local habits. School meals in Honduras now incorporate locally-produced vegetables, fruits, eggs and dairy products, most of which are produced by smallholder farmers, as well as fortified maize flour produced on the national level. A similar project is carried out in Malawi, under PAA Africa.
Nutrition education and awareness-raising
Nutrition-sensitive interventions can be used as a platform for delivering nutrition education and increasing the reach of nutrition communication efforts. For example, in Afghanistan, an advocacy campaign is being carried out with the Government’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to increase demand for fortified foods produced locally from smallholders’ produce.
[photo|647395]School meals also present the opportunity to teach schoolchildren about the importance of good nutrition, lessons which they can bring back to their families and household. An emphasis on nutritious fresh foods can promote diet diversification at home, a lesson which many schools, such as the Hanja Chafa Primary School in Ethiopia, reinforce through nutrition education. Similarly, when Vitamin A Maize was being introduced to school meals in Zambia, cooking demonstrations were held in schools and communities to illustrate its benefits and relative similarity to that of the traditional white maize – despite its different colour. After these demonstrations, the schools requested biofortified seeds for planting in their school gardens.
Because women farmers are often responsible for childcare and food preparation, P4P’s gender component has proven particularly effective for delivering nutrition education. For example, under the SUN movement in Guatemala, food insecure people, especially women, are assisted to create home gardens and carry out soil conservation activities. Mother-to-mother support groups discuss feeding and care practices, equipping mothers with the tools to provide their children with adequate nutrition. Similarly, in Mali sessions were held detailing the benefits of eating niébé at home.
Addressing risks and overcoming challenges
Agricultural development can play an important role in improving nutrition. However, at the most basic level, nutrition-sensitive interventions should be carefully designed to ensure a “do no harm” approach. For example, empowering women farmers to engage more fully in agricultural activities could mean less time for childcare and food preparation. In addition, increased emphasis on staple crop production could alter land use away from more nutrient-rich foods. Recognizing these potential risks, WFP will continue ensuring that nutrition is taken into account in its pro-smallholder market development efforts. Continued efforts will be made to provide nutrition education. Plus, solutions to ensure that women’s participation in agriculture does not negatively impact household nutrition will continue to be emphasized. WFP will continue supporting women to access the technology and skills to reduce the demands of their labour and help them better balance their time between responsibilities.
Moving forward, increased efforts to explicitly incorporate nutrition objectives and to track nutrition-sensitive outcomes are needed in WFP’s pro-smallholder programming. As P4P is mainstreamed into WFP’s regular work, there is an increased opportunity to build more conscious links with nutrition into its design. Using the nutrition value chain, potential entry points for adding or strengthening nutritional value to P4P activities can be systematically identified, and recommendations made accordingly. Moving forward, WFP will continue to develop guidance for best incorporating nutrition-sensitive efforts into its portfolio of work.
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