A farming model aimed at addressing malnutrition
Farming test is the primary source of livelihood for the majority of people in India and South Asia. The region, and particularly India, enjoyed sustained economic growth during the first decade of the new millennium, yet the agriculture sector stagnated and a vast section of the population remained undernourished. Agricultural interventions in the region during 1960s and 1970s focused on increasing food production and agricultural productivity. This emphasis enabled farmers to attain self sufficiency and address the problems of food shortage and chronic hunger. Research, during this period, focused on farming systems to optimize resources (crops, home garden and livestock) with little attention to nutrition or nutritional outcomes.
Today, we know that increasing food production alone cannot address malnutrition. People know when they are hungry, but they may not know if they are chronically undernourished. A healthy diet needs a diversity of food including a balanced and adequate combination of energy, fat, protein and micronutrients. Agricultural interventions need to be more nutrition-sensitive, with a stronger focus on nutrient-dense foods with high levels of bio-availability (the proportion of micronutrients capable of being absorbed).
A new system for farming has been developed with the express purpose of improving nutrition and generating evidence that can be used by others. The aim of Farming Systems for Nutrition (FSN) is to develop a sustainable model of farming with a nutrition focus. The programme and research is funded by research consortium Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia.
FSN integrates income enhancement with the production of nutritious crops (both natural and bio-fortified), livestock, poultry, fisheries and agro-forestry. It aims to address the nutritional needs of farm and non-farm families based on their personal assets, market conditions and community preferences. The M S Swaminathan Research Foundation is implementing a farming systems approach combined with nutrition literacy. The major components of the study are:
- i) survey the area to identify the main nutritional problems;
- ii) identify suitable agricultural solutions to address the problems (crop-livestock integration, cultivation of pulses and bio-fortified crops),
- iii) include specific nutritional criteria in the design of the farming system,
- iv) improve small farm productivity and profitability in order to enhance cash income and,
- v) introduce monitoring systems for assessing impact, based on well defined and measurable criteria.
The FSN interventions are being trialled in a set of villages in Koraput district in the state of Odisha and Wardha district in the state of Maharashtra in India. The two sites present a contrast in terms of predominance of food and non-food crops. The study seeks to understand whether, why and how agricultural interventions can generate nutritional impacts among children under five, pregnant mothers and adolescent girls. It also specifically explores the scope of scaling up the FSN model to improve the nutritional status of malnourished communities in other parts of the region. If the model is proven to be effective, the evidence generated through the study could be used to frame nutrition sensitive farming systems at national and regional level.
Also to understand better the disconnects between agriculture and nutrition in India see a recent IFPRI paper by LANSA’s Stuart Gillespie and Suneetha Kadiyala, titled ‘Agriculture-Nutrition Disconnect in India’.
Another LANSA funded paper, this time in Nepal, assesses how gender equity can help make agricultural development more likely to contribute to improved health and nutrition. The paper is called Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Production Diversity, and Nutrition: Evidence from Nepal and a short summary can be found here. The authors investigate the impact of women’s empowerment in agriculture and production diversity on the diets and nutrition outcomes of mothers and children.
 Though, it should be noted that, bio availability in foods is in part dependent on the nutritional status of the consumer.