Investing in Change, Part Two: Improved Agriculture and Consumption Behaviors

Investing in Change, Part Two: Improved Agriculture and Consumption Behaviors

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My last blog on biofortification, published May 2, 2012, talked in detail about biofortification and provided some background on how it works and why we, as proponents of maximizing nutrition impacts of agriculture interventions, should be paying attention to the latest developments in biofortification. I recently attended an event on biofortification, which included some excellent presentations:

  • Dr. Moursi of Harvest Plus talked about the impact of the distribution of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP), a biofortified crop, in Mozambique and Uganda.
  • Dr. DeBrauw of IFPRI teased apart the main program design and implementation components of what made this intervention successful.
  • Dr. Gilligan of IFPRI studied and presented how social networks influenced OFSP adoption rates.

Now that you have the background on biofortification, this blog will focus on the results presented during this launch event, and for which presentations are available here.


The first trial with sweet potato by HarvestPlus began in 2006 in Mozambique and Uganda, for which an impact evaluation was performed in 2009. The presentation by Dr. Moursi focused on the Mozambique case, where the evaluation demonstrated positive results, both in terms of adoption of the crop by farmers and consumption in target groups – in this case, women and young children.1 Not only was a significant increase in sweet potato consumption observed in target beneficiaries (when compared to control group), but the sweet potato also became a significant proportion of their total vitamin A intakes.1 When compared to the control group, OFSP accounted for 43 percent (control group) versus 76 percent (intervention Model 1 group) of vitamin A intake for young children 6-35 months.1 This means that in the intervention group, almost all vitamin A intake was coming from OFSP.


Once the potential of the sweet potato as a source of vitamin A was confirmed, the research team did a causal mechanisms analysis to determine which specific factors of the Mozambique Project’s design – the seed systems component, the demand creation component, and/or the market development component – determined crop adoption and increased OFSP intakes. Dr. DeBrauw presented these results, which included the following:

  1. Adoption behaviors – receiving, planting, and harvesting the OFSP vines – was the largest contributor to the adoption and consumption of vitamin A by target groups.
  2. Only a very small portion of the reason people adopted OFSP was attributable to the nutrition messages that were given through the intervention.
  3. The market systems component did not have an impact on households because the large majority were farming and harvesting OFSP for household consumption rather than for selling at the market.

The last presentation focused on the Uganda case, which followed a slightly different OFSP vine distribution model, where vines were distributed to farmer groups only once at the beginning of the project, rather than once per year or per planting season, as was done in Mozambique. Uganda’s distribution pattern, therefore, presented a unique opportunity to analyze specific adoption behaviors – influencing initial adoption and continued adoption through replanting of vines – based on their personal connection to farmer groups.  The study found that farmers who did not belong to a farmer group needed to know only one person from a farmer group to access OFSP vines. In terms of continued adoption, however, farmers with stronger relationships to someone in the farmer group (denser information networks) were more likely to replant OFSP each season.


So, what does all of this tell us? First, that OFSP distribution and adoption can have a positive impact on household consumption of foods rich in vitamin A, including among nutritionally vulnerable groups like women and young children. Second, that in an "updated" iteration of an OFSP program in Mozambique, the revised model could eliminate the marketing component and scale back the messaging/demand creation component, to achieve sufficient uptake and consumption of OFSP. And third, that in contexts where farmer groups exist, such as in Uganda, they can serve not only as a vehicle for distribution of new, more nutritious crop varieties, but also can play an important role in adoption behaviors across non-farmer members through individual social networks, producing a positive "leakage" effect.


The careful design of projects, research, and analysis of the behavioral components of these interventions – essential to truly understanding the process needed for sustainable and continued change and adoption – comprise an exemplary process that will significantly contribute to more contextual and effective program design and policy making based on results and evidence. So although it holds high rewards, this process is a slow and difficult, yet one that will ultimately lead to positive and sustainable change.




A large-scale intervention to introduce orange sweet potato in rural Mozambique increases vitamin A intakes among children and women


Please find the resources below for more information on biofortification:


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