05 June 2014

LCIRAH Conference on agriculture and nutrition: Busting myths along the way

On June 3 I was at the LCIRAH annual conference, chairing the first session.

I also presented my paper with Lisa Smith on the underlying drivers of stunting decline over the 1970-2012 period. My powerpoints are here.

I was only able to manage to be there for the first morning but there were some interesting presentations:

* Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist who leads research on both ‘food safety and zoonoses’ at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and ‘agriculture-associated diseases’, a flagship project of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) gave a great talk, busting some common myths about food safety (for example, in the African countries she has studied, despite the attention they are given, it is not the supermarkets that have the best food safety compliance or lowest bacteria levels but the small retailers, so policy should not assume that they can regulate the big retailers the most easily--the more pro-poor places to start may well be the easiest too).

* My new IFPRI colleague Avinash Kishore (a.kishore@cgiar.org) made a fascinating presentation on PDS reform (Public Distribution System of subsided grain to consumers) reform. I could not find the paper.  He looks at whether the reforms in 4 Indian states (Chhattisgarh, Odisah, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, I think) led to improved PDS performance.  He compares performance in these states over the past few years with performance in non reform states over the same period.  He also busts a few myths along the way. For example, moving from targeting to universal access and increasing the difference between market price and consumer price reduces diversion (black market activity). Perhaps this is due to the families caring much more about the (now larger) subsidy and the reduced domestic opportunity for sale to those previously excluded.   Many people would have thought these changes would increase the scope for diversion.  He notes that the impacts have been largest in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, but it is not clear to me why this is, at least from the presentation.

* A couple of work in progress papers by Mara van den Bold (IFPRI) and Carmen Savelli (WHO) on the challenges of working intersectorally.  Nice presentations, because they actually report on  methodical work diagnosing the reasons for good and not so good collaboration.  But they are not quite there yet in terms of what to change to enable more co-ordination and collaboration.  The parallels between food safety and nutrition in terms of multistakeholder work were interesting. Both 21st century problems are being dealt with by 20th century institutional constructs.  That this is the most effective way of doing this, is, I think, one of the great myths.  The real reform we need is public policy departments that are more aligned with the problems and less with the inputs. 

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