Improving nutrition through agriculture: Reflections from the Second Global Conference on Agriculture and Rural Development (GCARD2)
I recently had the opportunity to present the World Bank’s thinking on nutrition sensitive agriculture on the sidelines of the Second Global Conference for Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2) held in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Specifically, SecureNutrition co-hosted a workshop on the nexus of gender, nutrition, and agriculture together with the Consultative Group for International Agriculture Research’s (CGIAR) Research Program: Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), and the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (GDPRD) nutrition working group.
GCARD2 is one of the largest conferences for international agricultural research and was an ideal venue for exchanging ideas on the intersections of agriculture, gender, and nutrition with agricultural colleagues. While the nutrition community has advanced and embraced the concept of improving nutrition through agriculture, or “the food-based approach”, there has been less familiarity among the agricultural community. Within agriculture, nutrition is usually considered to be a health issue, or something that could be taken care of by improving income (“if people become richer, their nutritional status will naturally improve”). In that sense, GCARD2 provided a good opportunity to have a candid discussion with a mainly agricultural crowd on what is needed to improve nutrition through agriculture.
Some messages that came through during the discussions:
- We need a multisectoral approach to achieve food and nutrition security - Agriculture is, arguably, a main part of this story, but it is not the entire solution. We need to work with existing priorities and incentives in each sector to build demand for a coordinated approach in order to avoid overcomplicating the issue.
- We need more evidence on nutrition sensitive agriculture – Currently, there is limited evidence that connects nutrition-sensitive agriculture with improved nutritional outcomes. This contrasts to nutrition specific interventions where there is sufficient evidence and wide consensus on which are the most effective. We must continue to support efforts to build up evidence. Solid evidence of the impact of these interventions is the most effective way to convince the agriculture sector to focus on nutrition.
- Leadership (“nutrition champions”) tied to local demand and realities and accountability of all parties involved is critical- An African government official working to fight malnutrition shared his experience, noting that the most effective entry point to engage with the Ministry of Agriculture is not necessarily at the central Government level, but at the community level. A solid nutrition assessment at the community level that identifies the specific problems that the particular community faces forms the basis of an often effective dialogue with the agriculture sector to discuss solutions tailored to that community based on available resources and constraints in that area.
- We must keep “food and nutrition security” on the agenda – The SUN movement has been instrumental in putting nutrition in the global food security agenda. We need to move beyond the old way of thinking that income growth will automatically result in people selecting and consuming more nutritious foods, which will in turn result in improved nutritional status. Instead we must focus on ways to consciously find opportunities to maximize nutritional outcomes through a multisectoral approach.
Perhaps most importantly, the event underscored the need to continue the conversation between nutrition and agriculture experts on the development approach. The event offered an opportunity to discuss nutrition among a mainly agriculture audience notably the researchers from CGIAR centers, government officials, donors, and CSOs. We, in the agricultural community, need to be able to respond to the nutrition community on sensible ways that we can contribute. After all, regardless of the sector we work in, health or agriculture, at the end of the day we are all concerned about the wellbeing of the poor, especially the vulnerable.