Improving nutrition through agriculture
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
World Food Day, which took place on 15th June, was a reminder that the fight against food insecurity must not falter. More than 840 million people are undernourished and the proportion of undernourishment has only declined by 17% since the early 1990s as stressed by the FAO who are organizing an international conference on nutrition in November.
In a recent publication (extract here1) IFAD reminds us of the crucial role of agriculture in improving nutrition, particularly in developing countries. So building strategies for agricultural and rural development for the poorest producers is a fundamental challenge for global food security, but more generally for the very development of certain nations.
Indeed, no country in the world has experienced steady and sustainable economic growth without prior development of its agricultural sector. Agriculture is the main source of income for over 40% of the world’s population, yet 70% of the world’s poor and undernourished live in rural areas and are mainly farmers.
So today agriculture seems to be not only a response to food crises, but also as one of the pillars of political and economic development of States.
momagri Editorial Board
In addressing malnutrition, agriculture’s essential and singular role is to ensure that diverse, nutritious foods, adequate to meet the needs of people of all ages, are available and accessible at all times, either from the market or from farmers’ own production.
Traditionally, agricultural interventions have focused on increasing food production and raising incomes to reduce malnutrition, hunger and poverty.
Although this remains part of a valid approach, it is now recognized that higher levels of production and income alone have limited impact on improving nutrition.
A more comprehensive approach is necessary to optimize agriculture’s contribution to good nutrition and make agriculture nutrition sensitive. Such an approach identifies constraints and opportunities to leverage agriculture for better nutrition throughout a food system, without detracting from the agricultural sector’s conventional goals. It explicitly takes nutrition outcomes into account in the design and implementation of agricultural interventions to ensure that impacts on nutrition are positive and significant.
For example, certain targeted actions can promote the availability, accessibility and consumption of nutritious foods, including by increasing the nutritional value of the foods themselves.
Increases in production and productivity can raise incomes, which can be used to purchase food. Biofortification and improvements in soil health can raise the nutrient value of crops, as can better storage, preservation and processing. Improved production, processing or marketing efficiency, as well as reduction of waste, can reduce the relative prices or the amount of time it takes to prepare more nutritious foods, making them more attractive as part of the diet. Diversification of production can be achieved through adoption of new crops or new production systems. Agricultural technologies and production systems can increase the diversity and nutritional value of production.
At the macroeconomic level, policies, including trade, and public investments guided by agricultural and rural development strategies can affect prices of more nutritious foods and also shape food systems.
Education and information are essential to ensuring that expanded and more diverse production translates into healthier diets and better nutrition, particularly for smallholders. Without social and behavioural changes, food storage and preparation and diets may stay the same, even if incomes, production and productivity increase.
Given that the causes of malnutrition cut across sectors, multisectoral action is essential. Agriculture must partner with other sectors, particularly health, water and sanitation, and education. But there also has to be convergence – that is, actions in various sectors have to take place in a coordinated way so they arrive at the same place at the same time.
1 The full note is available from