Nutrition-sensitive agriculture: The cornerstone of a healthier world

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Nutrition-sensitive agriculture: The cornerstone of a healthier world

©IFAD/Santiago Albert Pons

Nutrition-sensitive agriculture is a food-based approach to agricultural development that puts nutritionally rich foods and dietary diversity at the heart of overcoming undernutrition, overnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. It might therefore seem counter-intuitive to suggest that agriculture should become more nutrition-sensitive. After all, agriculture is already the source of most of the food we consume. Yet many people involved in agriculture do not consume enough food or benefit from a healthy diet. Indeed, although 63 per cent of low-income people worldwide work in agriculture – the overwhelming majority of them on small farms – many are at risk of food and nutrition insecurity.

Farmers often must make difficult choices between what they consume and what they sell. Though they may grow nutritious crops and raise livestock, many of them sell most of what they produce, with little or nothing left for household consumption. Many others need to purchase most of their food at the market because they grow only one or a few crops. At the market, their choice of food can depend on many factors. For example, they may need to purchase less expensive (i.e., less nutritious) food due to low earnings, or they may choose less nutritious foods due to a lack of awareness about nutrition. Additionally, not all markets offer a variety of foods, and fluctuations in availability due to seasonality or limited production are also common.

The primary objective of investing in nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems is to ensure that acceptable, diverse, nutritious and safe foods, adequate to meet the dietary needs of people of all ages, are available and affordable at all times. This can mean, for example, introducing good practices that enable year-round access to a variety of nutritious food – either by making sure producers have the resources to produce the right foods for a healthy diet, or by equipping markets to sell a variety of nutritious foods at affordable prices. It also means preventing food loss and waste by reducing food-borne pathogens through good hygiene practices and improving technology along the value chain. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture also means educating families about nutrition so they can produce, purchase, prepare and consume healthy foods.

Nutrition-sensitive agriculture in IFAD’s work

Many IFAD-supported projects incorporate interventions designed to improve diets and other nutrition outcomes. The OPELIP project in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, for example, brings a nutrition-sensitive focus to all of its activities. As part of its work to build infrastructure and help communities manage natural resources, the project provides participating households with storage capabilities to reduce food loss, along with equipment that can process nutritious grains like millet. It also organizes cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes, and helps participating families establish home gardens and begin raising poultry and goats.

By contrast, the IFAD-financed ProPESCA project, which sought to improve the livelihoods of artisanal fishers in Mozambique, was not initially designed to be nutrition-sensitive. But in 2016, five years after its launch, the project began engaging in dialogues with stakeholders and potential partners to add nutrition-based activities.

Thanks to these efforts, the project trained over 1,600 community leaders – almost five times the target number – on how to achieve a balanced diet. It also taught nutrition skills to over 7,200 children and cooperated with existing ProPESCA community group partners to host nutrition classes and establish household gardens. These outcomes demonstrate that nutrition-based goals can be effectively introduced and achieved through cooperation and dialogue.

The Neer-Tamba project in Burkina Faso uses nutrition as an entry point to strengthen community cohesion and mitigate the effects of climate change. It helps communities establish “nutritious gardens” where farmers grow plants like moringa and baobab, which both sequester carbon and are a mainstay of nutritious diets. Participants from across the community come together to prepare the soil, tend seedlings and process food.

Renewing our commitment to end malnutrition

In 2013, IFAD committed to working even harder to end malnutrition at the first Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit, held in London. At the 2021 N4G Summit, hosted by Japan, IFAD joins other nutrition stakeholders in setting more ambitious goals for integrating nutrition into its investments. These goals include:  

  • By 2024, a minimum of 60 per cent of all new projects will be nutrition-sensitive
  • By 2024, at least 25 per cent of women targeted for improved nutrition will have diets that meet nutritional diversity standards
  • Six million persons will be provided with targeted support to improve their nutrition through our investments

These goals are closely aligned with our IFAD12 commitments, and they also reflect the priorities of our COSOPs (the frameworks guiding our country-level investments), which have established nutrition-sensitive objectives, indicators and activities. Moreover, IFAD will continue to adopt strong, evidence-based nutrition-sensitive interventions, increase its financial investments in nutrition, and ensure close alignment with national priorities and strengthen coordination with other sectors and stakeholders.

Today, with less than 10 years remaining to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it is widely recognized that good nutrition transforms individual lives and unlocks equitable and sustainable development for societies. Transforming agriculture and food systems to become nutrition-sensitive will make it possible to provide safe, affordable and nutritious foods at all times to people of all ages.