There are many opportunities for improving the nutritional impact of agricultural investments across the entire agricultural value chain—from inputs into the production process through harvest, storage, marketing, processing, retailing, as well as behavior change programs to increase consumer demand for nutritional products. The foundation’s Agricultural Development and Nutrition programs have selected specific focus areas along the value chain and are making complementary investments in the following areas:
The foundation’s work to improve the nutrition of key staple foods by developing enhanced varieties is long-standing and began before the Agricultural Development program was established. This approach, called biofortification, is a sustainable, low-cost means of providing improved access to micronutrients for rural communities that primarily consume non-processed foods. Key investments in this area include nutritionally-enhanced sweet potatoes, maize, beans, cassava, rice, bananas, pearl millet, and wheat (see table below). Our partners have successfully demonstrated that higher levels of nutrients can be achieved through breeding and are now moving into a delivery phase for many of these products. To date, our Agricultural Development, Nutrition, and Global Health Discovery teams have committed nearly $100 million to develop and disseminate nutritionally-enhanced staple foods.
|| Nutrients enhanced
| Sweet Potato
|| Vitamin A
|| Vitamin A
|| Vitamin A, iron, and protein
|| Vitamin A, zinc
|| Vitamin A, iron
| Pearl millet
Programs that directly interact with farmers have a significant opportunity to deliver information about practices and behaviors that improve nutrition alongside information on agriculture. Several grantees, including Heifer International’s East Africa Dairy Development Project and Farm Concern International’s Domestic Horticulture Markets program are currently pursuing this approach. We will strengthen and expand this integration of nutrition education into our agricultural programs, incorporating best practices from behavior change programs. We will focus our greatest attention on legumes and livestock because they offer unique opportunities to improve dietary diversity and nutrition at the household level. In particular, we will work to reach women farmers and to ensure that their increased productivity will translate into improved health and nutrition for their families.
Harmful aflatoxins and other mycotoxins affect a significant percentage of food crops worldwide and can cause cancer, immune-system suppression, and liver disease in both humans and domestic animals. In 2011, the Agricultural Development team invested in the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) to seek low-cost, effective solutions for this problem. In 2012, the foundation’s Agricultural Development, Enteric Disease, and Nutrition teams jointly hosted a meeting of leading international mycotoxin researchers to discuss the health impact of mycotoxins and control measures. The three teams are working together with stakeholders to understand the burden of the problem and its effects on child growth and development, and generate cost-effective interventions to help control the problem.
Policy and Advocacy
Limited communication between the agriculture and nutrition sectors and inadequate joint planning at the national level has reduced the impact of interventions in both areas. The creation of an enabling environment, encompassing effective national institutions, for the development and implementation of nutrition-sensitive agricultural policies and programming is critical. There is also a need for national data sets which contain agricultural, income, and nutrition variables for the same households and attempt to better understand and strengthen the linkages between them. The foundation has supported global and national platforms for cross-sectoral collaboration and the development and integration of agricultural components into nutrition policy planning in several countries. For example, engaging with the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2020 Vision and participating in UN REACH. The IFPRI 20/20 conference held in 2011 is an example of a global conference, while UN REACH is an example of a an ongoing cross-sectoral collaboration platform that offers tools and information focused on the country level. We have also backed the global Scaling Up Nutrition movement, which promotes a multi-sectoral collaborative approach to addressing undernutrition.
The foundation recognizes the importance of rigorous research, learning, and evaluation to guide policies and decision-making and to ensure continuous program improvements. We want to ensure that agricultural projects which intend to have a nutritional impact have a robust evaluation design so that we advance our knowledge of how to maximize the impact of agricultural investments on nutritional outcomes.
Broad-based agricultural growth and greater food availability can still fail to produce widespread nutritional improvements. To better understand cases where significant agricultural growth has not resulted in commensurate nutritional gains, such as in India, the foundation has supported in-depth research efforts such as Tackling the Agriculture-Nutrition Disconnect in India (TANDI). Future research and learning priorities to strengthen our work and the work of the broader agriculture-nutrition sector are summarized below.
Understanding the agriculture-nutrition pathway at the population and household levels
- How do we measure the broader impact of agriculture projects on consumers, including the effects on price, food expenditures, and food consumption?
- What are the quantifiable linkages and leakages in the agriculture-income-nutrition pathway, including household income, agricultural production, agricultural sales, food expenditures, food consumption, feeding practices, intra-household food distribution, child feeding practices, children and women’s morbidity, and children and women’s nutritional status. What linkages in the agriculture-income-nutrition pathway are most critical to improving health outcomes and amenable to intervention?
- Under what conditions do increases in agricultural income lead to improved nutritional outcomes?
- What is the effect of agricultural labor on women and young children’s health and nutrition?
Improving nutritional outcomes along the agricultural value chain
- How can agricultural interventions be designed to improve nutritional outcomes within farm families?
- Which entry points along the agricultural value chain have the greatest potential impact for improving women and child’s nutrition?
- Can agricultural growth and nutrition be more tightly connected by focusing more on women farmers and their productivity?
- What are the best delivery mechanisms for educating farming households about nutrition?
Measuring the nutritional impact of agricultural projects
- What are appropriate indicators for measuring the nutritional impact of agricultural interventions?
- How should impact indicators and “standards of credible evidence” vary across the value chain for different interventions (e.g., biofortification, improved food processing and storage methods, behavior change, policy change)?
- Does greater diversity in household food production lead to more diverse diets consumed by farm households and individual members, such as women and children?