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Agriculture-Nutrition Impact Studies



RFP Summary

RFP: SOL1113144

Open call for concept memos: July 1st 2014

Concept memo deadline: August 8th 2014

Finalists notified and invited to submit a full proposal:
by November 10th 2014

See Full RFA and Submit a Concept Memo


The UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the foundation) are seeking applications to conduct innovative, large-scale studies in agriculture to improve nutrition and health outcomes. There is currently insufficient knowledge on how to design, implement and measure the impact of agricultural programs on nutritional status and health, particularly of women and children. This Request for Application (RFA) seeks applications for large-scale, medium to long-term research studies and evaluations that will deliver robust evidence on the impact of agriculture on nutrition and health outcomes. The knowledge generated from these research studies will contribute to nutrition-sensitive programs and policies in agriculture at the national, regional and global levels.


Undernutrition remains one of the world’s greatest human and economic development challenges. One in four children under 5 years of age suffers from stunting, or chronic undernutrition, which is caused by poor quality and quantity diets, inappropriate care and feeding practices in early life, and high rates of infectious disease. Poor nutrition can result in an inter-generational cycle of undernutrition, since undernourished women are more likely to give birth to children that begin life nutritionally disadvantaged and are more likely to be stunted by the age of five years and more likely to grow into short and disadvantaged adults. Improving nutrition requires a multisectoral approach that brings health, agriculture, education, water, sanitation and hygiene and social protection sectors and programs together.

There is currently a tremendous momentum at a global and country level to identify ways to ensure that agriculture is nutrition-sensitive i.e. that agricultural programs and policies are designed in such a way as to enable nutrition outcomes to be improved. However, many look at the experience of the Green Revolution in Asia, which dramatically increased agricultural productivity but did not result in equally impressive improvements in nutritional status, and ask: how can we achieve gains in agricultural productivity but do so in a way that directly improves nutritional status and health in vulnerable households, and contributes to a more nutritious food system?

The links between agriculture, nutrition and health are complex although there is a clear potential for the agriculture sector to play a critical role in enhancing health and specifically maternal and child nutrition and health outcomes. A well-developed agriculture sector can deliver increased and diversified farm outputs (crops, livestock, non-food products) and this may enhance food and nutrition security directly through increased access to and consumption of diverse foods, or indirectly through greater profits to farmers and national wealth. Indeed, agriculture is a significant source of livelihoods in many poor countries and, in these settings, is also a major employer of women. The links also work in reverse in that better nutrition and health of farmers and farming households increases their agricultural and economic productivity. However, agriculture carries risks to nutrition and health outcomes, for example, through zoonotic and other agriculture-related diseases, through impact of agriculture on women’s workload and time for child care and feeding, and through the impact of agriculture on major environmental determinants of health including water scarcity, climate change and biodiversity loss.

There is some evidence that certain agricultural interventions can enhance dietary intakes and improve nutrition and health outcomes (DFID Evidence Paper 2014; Ruel et al 2013). Currently however, the evidence base for the potential of agricultural strategies to improve the nutrition and health of women and young children is mixed, based on a relatively small number of heterogeneous studies, and generally constrained by methodological limitations (Masset et al 2012; Webb Girard et al 2012). There is a need for robust and large-scale evidence generation to guide global policy and advocacy efforts in nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

Key outstanding research questions identified by the global community include:

  • How can agricultural interventions be designed to improve nutritional outcomes for individuals in farm families and communities as a whole?
  • What are the best delivery mechanisms through which agriculture can affect nutrition?
  • What agricultural interventions improve nutrition and health in the most cost-effective way?

This program complements support currently provided by DFID and the foundation to deliver high-quality evidence on the links between agriculture, nutrition and health to multiple initiatives including: the Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) research program consortium, Harvest Plus, Tackling the Agriculture and Nutrition Disconnect in India (TANDI 2), Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa (Mama SASHA), the Nutrition Embedding Evaluation Program (NEEP), Innovative Metrics and Methods in Agriculture for Nutrition Program (IMMANP), and Improving Nutrition Outcomes through Optimized Agricultural Interventions.

The program will be expected to contribute significantly to ongoing international efforts to increase the quality of evidence linking agriculture, nutrition and health, such as those underway under the CGIAR Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), and the Strengthening Impact Assessment in the CGIAR (SIAC) project from the CGIAR Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA). This coordination will be used to minimize duplication of research activities and to ensure that newly commissioned research builds on the emerging evidence.


The goal of this program is to deliver high-quality large-scale evidence linking agriculture, nutrition and health. The outcome will be the delivery of robust evidence on the impact of agricultural interventions on nutrition and health outcomes to inform policy makers at national, regional and global levels.

Scope and Approach

We aim to invest in multiple research studies through this RFA that we plan to issue once a year for up to 3 years. We have a preference for studies that will take place in one or more of the 34 countries suffering from the highest burden of stunting in childhood (listed in the 2013 Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition Series), and we have a particular interest in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In order to contribute substantially to building the global evidence, we are most interested in studies that are long enough in duration to detect changes in anthropometry, dietary diversity, or other key nutrition and health outcomes along agriculture-nutrition-health pathways.

We are expecting the following outputs to be delivered:

  1. High quality evidence on the impact at scale of agricultural interventions on nutrition and health outcomes
  2. Publications in international peer-reviewed journals on the impact of agriculture on nutrition and health outcomes
  3. Increased capacity of researchers, evaluators, and practitioners working on agriculture, nutrition and health linkages, particularly those based in African and South Asian countries

In order to achieve those outcomes, the following approaches are envisaged:

  • Research designs that provide the highest level of rigor possible: as randomized controlled trials provide the highest level of causal attribution in impact evaluations, we will view well-designed RCTs favorably. However, we also recognize the many challenges with RCTs and understand that randomized designs may not be appropriate in all settings. Thus we also plan to support well-designed experimental and quasi-experimental designs, provided the applicant explains the rationale for the selected design.
  • Research on all agricultural innovations is sought, whether these innovations are cross-cutting or value chain specific. Within value chain commodities, we are especially interested in the role of legumes and animal-source foods including fish.
  • Given the importance of women’s empowerment in strengthening agriculture-nutrition-health pathways, we require a focus on gender not only to identify different impacts between genders, but also to help design approaches that strengthen women’s empowerment, such as autonomy of production, control of income and membership in groups.
  • All nutrition and health outcomes relating to undernutrition are of interest, and a focus on the neglected areas of pre-conception and maternal nutrition would be particularly welcomed.
  • Proposals that contribute to learning on the cost-effectiveness of agricultural interventions will be looked upon favorably.

Two type of funding modalities are available:

  1. Window 1: For interventions and study designs that are fully supported by existing formative and feasibility research, up to $3.5 million per proposal is available over 5 years.
  2. Window 2: For proposals that are not supported by formative and feasibility research, up to $100,000 per proposal is available over a 6-12 month period to enable protocol development. In exceptional cases, we will review proposals up to a limit of $250,000 where the applicant is able to strongly justify this higher level of investment. It is expected that Window 2 grants will lead to full proposals being submitted under Window 1 for full review at a later date.

How to Apply

For rules, concept memo guidelines, and instructions on how to apply, please see the full RFA.

See Full RFA and Submit a Concept Memo

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