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 with a particular interest in studies that focus on animal-source foods in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The knowledge generated from these research studies will contribute to nutrition-sensitive programs and policies in agriculture at the national, regional and global levels.
Scope and Approach
This partnership between DFID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been designed to select and support multiple research studies through an RFA announced annually. This is the second RFA announcement. 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 sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 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
For this round, we have a particular interest in studies that explore the potential nutrition impact of animal source food -focused programs. Animal-source foods (ASF) comprise some of the most nutritious food commodities and are good sources of high quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and micronutrients and minerals (iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins A and B-12). Multiple studies have shown that infants and young children who consume ASF are less likely to suffer from micronutrient deficiencies—many of which are associated with poor health outcomes including anemia, rickets, poor growth, poor cognitive function, and increased morbidity and mortality. Yet consumption of ASFs remains low in many sub-Saharan Africa and South Asian countries, and there are often challenges facing animal source food programs that aim to improve nutrition:
- They can cause increased workload, particularly for women, which in turn has negative consequences for nutritional and health status of women and their children
- Evaluations tend to have focused on the direct consumption pathway, and are not always designed to measure impact along multiple agriculture-nutrition pathways, including income and women’s empowerment
- Like other agriculture programs, but particularly acute in animal source food -focused efforts, sound evidence is lacking about the trade-offs between improving production and consumption. For example, if a program focuses on increasing consumption of animal source foods within producing households, will this have consequences for that household from a productivity and/or income standpoint?
More evidence is needed on the effectiveness of animal source food -focused interventions in light of these and other gaps in knowledge. While this RFA is open to all agriculture commodities, we will look favorably on those that focus on the potential of animal source foods in the highest burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
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.
- 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.
- Concept notes that contribute to learning on the cost-effectiveness of agricultural interventions will be looked upon favorably.
- Use of existing datasets, where they are of sufficient quality and applicable to the proposed study, is encouraged.
- A commitment to the translation of research findings into use, and the proactive sharing of open data to make information about agriculture and nutrition more widely accessible. Please refer to the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition for more information on global efforts to make relevant data available.
Two types of research are envisioned under this RFA:
CATEGORY A: Large-scale impact evaluations: For interventions and study designs that are fully supported by existing formative and feasibility research
CATEGORY B: Formative research: For smaller-scale formative or feasibility research that would be necessary prior to a large-scale impact evaluation.
By definition, formative research helps researchers understand the interests, behaviors, and needs of target populations and is critical for developing effective interventions. Feasibility research assesses the viability of ideas or interventions and helps answer important questions about whether and how interventions can be implemented. High quality formative and feasibility research are essential for the design of interventions that have the potential to have impact at scale.