Highilights from FSN's Discussion, "Making Agriculture Work for Nutrition: Prioritizing country-level action, research, and support"

Highilights from FSN's Discussion, "Making Agriculture Work for Nutrition: Prioritizing country-level action, research, and support"


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Last month, the FSN Forum hosted a discussion “Making agriculture work for nutrition: prioritizing country-level action, research and support” organized in collaboration between FAO and SecureNutrition.

Participants wrote in from 26 countries, the majority in Africa (24%) and Latin America and Caribbean (24%), followed by Europe (19%), Asia (14%) and North America (14%).  A wide variety of professional roles were represented.  Of note, several responses from the very people who are sometimes the focus of advice in this topic: students in non-nutrition academic training programs, ministry staff, and women agriculture extension and marketing professionals.  That we were able to share across these boundaries on a topic of common interest is one of the best features of the FSN Forum. 


The topic asked the following questions:

  1. If you were designing an agricultural investment program, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?
  2. To support the design and implementation of this program, where would you like to see more research done, and why?
  3. What can our institutions do to help country governments commit to action around your recommendations, and to help ensure implementation will be effective?

The 87 contributions offered a diversity of responses, as expected.  What was striking, though, was how often many of the same themes came up.

For question 1, participants strongly emphasized that agriculture programming and innovations should be targeted and designed to reach smallholders, to include women and to address specific needs of both rural and urban populations.  Within that frame, these were top priorities voiced to maximize impact of agriculture programming on nutrition:

  • The importance of understanding the nutrition situation and causes, and resources available in a given community.
  • Incorporating nutrition objectives, and measuring them through thoughtful monitoring and evaluation, to link production better with nutritional needs and for accountability.
  • Emphasis on nutritional quality of food produced, not just quantity. 
  • Actions to empower women and put women at the center of interventions.
  • Nutrition education and promotion, adapted to local knowledge and contexts.
  • Reduction of food waste, and involving value chain actors around food storage and distribution.
  • Better access to markets and food, including infrastructure and post-harvest value addition, without over-emphasizing profit over diets and sustainability.
  • Collaboration and communication across sectors and among all stakeholders.
  • Capacity building in extension, educators, and government staff.

These themes underscore many of the key points in the recent Synthesis of Guiding Principles on Agriculture Programming for Nutrition, an FAO-sponsored paper that analyzed current guidance published by development institutions and found a high convergence of main messages.  The FSN Forum discussion, however, added depth and nuance to some of the messages. In particular, this Forum discussion emphasized participation (participatory or community-led approaches in program planning), diversity as the primary production approach (concerned with access to nutrient-rich diets among smallholders, and additionally reflecting the value of biodiversity for both humans and ecosystems), environmentally sustainable production (including organic and low-input production, more innovative fertilization techniques and agronomic practices), and local knowledge (which strongly affects behavior and can provide resources and practices to solve nutrition problems).

We introduced this Forum discussion with an aim to provide inputs and key points back to upcoming high-level agenda-setting events, including the CFS (Committee on World Food Security), GCARD (Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development), and CAADP Nutrition Workshop (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme).  Last week at the GCARD meeting, a SecureNutrition team member Yurie Tanimichi Hoberg presented responses to discussion question 2 on research needs, including:

  • Improved evaluation of agriculture projects for nutrition results: a general need to identify “what works”, documenting different approaches in different contexts, developing or harmonizing indicators and methods.
  • Dissemination and capitalization of already existing research, in particular for smallholders, through participatory approaches; and development of new technologies and better management practices that are replicable in low-input settings.
  • Crop research and varietal selection for nutrition, particularly on underutilized foods/crops/varieties as well as biofortification.
  • How nutrition information affects consumer choices and demand for healthier products, and how to adapt nutrition education/communication based on beliefs, norms, habits and traditions
  • What institutional frameworks are needed for effective implementation of nutrition-sensitive programs and policies, and how to engage the private sector.

In answer to discussion question 3, priorities for institutions included:

  • Carry out the recommendations voiced above in our operational work.
  • Foster collaboration and communication – across sectors, across institutions.
  • Support research and evaluation of agriculture-nutrition projects with financial and human resources, and with tools, methodologies, and developing “mutual metrics” to consistently and accurately measure progress and impact.
  • Advocate for nutrition.  Shape understanding of “food security” in terms of dietary and nutrition impact.
  • Widely share knowledge by providing easy access to important reports and forums, research, and common guidance and messages.

The full text of all contributions can be found in the proceedings.  A comprehensive summary is available below: 

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