27 September 2013

How to get agriculture and nutrition more in sync? Focus on the fundamentals

I was at the CGIAR Science Forum this past Wednesday in Bonn.

The title of my presentation was: Bigger Impacts of Agriculture on Nutrition-What Will it Take?

My emphasis was on the fundamentals.

We spend a lot of time wondering about how to make agricultural interventions and policies more nutrition-sensitive, and this is sensible, but transformation will only be achieved when we understand how to change our expectations for agriculture's contributions to improved nutrition status.

We only change expectations for agriculture by focusing on things like:

* reframing outcomes--agriculture is not about food production, but about income production, and where markets are poor, and people cannot buy or sell products, it is about producing diets for own consumption
* understanding the current state of attitudes and knowledge about nutrition of agricultural policymakers
* painting a picture of what an agricultural commitment to nutrition actually looks like
* investing in training that brings agriculture and nutrition together--the CGIAR should be investing in training for its agricultural policymakers and scientists and in supporting national agricultural research centres in doing the same--there are not enough universities sending out a stream of professionals into this world how are literate in both issues
* not being too precious about evidence of impact. Use RCTs or quasi experimental methods where they make sense, but use other types of evidence where they most make sense.  For sure the agriculture community must up its game on impact and learning, but an over reliance on RCTs is a recipe for missing the wood for the trees
* being creative about co-location of agriculture and nutrition activities. Work by Hazell and Fan in the late 90s showed that the impacts of agricultural investment on poverty are highly contingent on location--impacts on nutrition are probably the same
* creating space for women to become engaged--and that means men have to change their behaviour as well as women forcing their way in
* developing tools that make it easier for the agricultural private sector and the public health sectors to come together to improve profits and nutrition--see an IDS-GAIN tool here

Agriculture does have the potential to dramatically accelerate stunting declines. We must realize that potential, because nutrition specific programmes on their own will, at best, reduce stunting by 20%. To realize that potential we need to build an enabling environment for agriculture. We know what to do--it’s up to us to make it happen.


Judith Appleton said...

Aaargh, more conflation of all forms of 'malnutrition'. You, and the agric bunch, need to remember that STUNTING, highlighted in para 1 of the GAIN-IDS tool, can only be prevented or reversed in a child BEFORE THE AGE OF TWO, so ag-plus interventions have to actually specifically target girls eating properly, pregnancy diets, and complementary feeds (while watsan, heath, education etc target the rest of the complexity of factors).

Lawrence Haddad said...

Hi Judith, you are right, I could be more careful in not conflating undernutrition and stunting--there is more to the former than the latter. But I think the ag bunch are well aware of the 1000 day window of opportunity, they just need help from folks like us on how to be effective in that window. Best