A new report recently released by the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition, entitled, The Nutrition Sensitivity of Agriculture and Food Policies, investigates, through eight country case studies, current understanding of effective nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food policies, and the development of food-based solutions that help countries to scale up nutrition.
Recognition of the links between agriculture and nutrition is growing, and both countries and institutions are working towards making agricultural policies more nutrition sensitive. The report discusses the work of Brazil, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Thailand to make agriculture, a sector important for both economic development and livelihoods in many developing countries, more able to address issues of nutrition insecurity, gender inequality and resilience.
The links between agriculture and nutrition are complex, and not well understood. In particular our knowledge of how agricultural programmes or policies can impact nutritional outcomes and consumption patterns have only recently begun to be investigated. As agricultural systems become more complex and global in nature, the links to nutrition, experienced at an individual or household level, become harder to understand and manage. What is understood is that the current food systems are not well designed to provide nutrition security and, for those countries suffering a high burden of malnutrition, guidance and practical advice in making nutrition-sensitive policy decisions and measuring their impact is needed.
Addressing nutrition requires a multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary approach, which, through agriculture, attempts to reduce unintended consequences of agricultural policies on consumer welfare while maximising positive nutrition outcomes. The report states that food and nutrition security are a product of both dietary diversity and quality, as well as being able to access sufficient calories. As the country case studies show many countries are now thinking about the links between agriculture and food and nutrition security and are committing to achieving positive nutrition outcomes, although rarely across the whole sector or with any formal measurement of impact. Nutrition outcomes can also be seen as secondary to sector-specific objectives, particularly worrisome if this leads to negative consequences for nutrition.
As intentions to address nutrition through various disciplines and sectors grows, there is a real opportunity to transform agricultural systems for the benefit of people across a range of socio-economic groups. The report calls for a greater understanding of how to translate policy into programmes and practical action and more analysis around:
• The challenges of operationalising nutrition-sensitive agriculture policies;
• Identifying metrics that effectively measure and evaluate the contributions of agriculture to diets and health, and provide feedback to policies and programmes;
• Assessing gaps in skills and required competencies, and making plans to close those gaps; and
• Understanding long-term implications of nutrition-sensitive agriculture in the context of the increasing global pressures of population growth, urbanisation, and climate variability.
In particular this study feeds into the Post-2015 development agenda debates, calling for nutrition as well as food security to feature in future development goals. Agricultural systems need “to meet not only caloric needs but also the micronutrient and quality needs of populations”.
A recent edition of SCN News, entitled, Changing Food Systems for Better Nutrition, also provides lessons on how food systems, through programmes and policies, can be adapted to support better nutrition for people.