Agriculture plays critical roles in providing both nutritious food and addressing the underlying causes of malnutrition. The potential impacts of agricultural activities on health and nutrition extend across a number of channels. One area of impact is household ability to produce, purchase and consume more, better and cheaper food.
In recent years, there has been an increase in cereals production and yields thus improving the well-being of many people. Furthermore bio-fortification efforts to breed and disseminate crops that are rich in micronutrients such as vitamin A, zinc and iron have improved vitamins and minerals intake among consumers. Another important contribution of agriculture towards nutrition and health is increased rural income. Given the importance of agriculture for the livelihood of the rural poor, agriculture growth has the potential to greatly reduce poverty, a key contributor to poor health and under-nutrition. Agricultural activities can also generate economy-wide effects such as increasing government revenues to fund health, infrastructure and nutrition intervention programs.
The following are five major ways to improve nutrition through agriculture:
Increase availability of and access to diverse, nutritious food: Diversification of farming systems is critical for ensuring availability of and access to a balanced diet efforts to diversify and expand. Farming systems must also contribute to increasing family income, making a diversity of foods, more convenient so that nutritional needs are met throughout the year.
- Encourage income use for better diets, health and hygiene: Agriculture is the primary livelihood of most rural households in the developing world. By increasing and diversifying income streams, agriculture activities can reduce the potential impact of future risks. With additional income families are better able to make informed, joint decisions about household purchases that can contribute to healthier diets and better health and childcare.
- Recognize the central role of women in agriculture and nutrition: When new technologies are introduced in farming systems, for example use of mechanization, they can reduce workload to women so that they can use newly available time for child and self-care. This is especially important for pregnant and lactating women and children, as this is when nutrition and health care needs are greater and when stunting growth can be prevented.
- Generate demand for diverse, nutritious foods-agriculture sector has the opportunity to help families make healthier choices. Donors, government funded programs and the private sector can accelerate demand for safe, nutritious foods through products, marketing, by increasing consumer knowledge of nutrition and by making healthy foods more convenient especially for adolescent girls and women of reproductive age.
- Establish policies and programs to support a broad view of nutrition; new or existing national policies can support nutrition through multi-sectorial approach, public-private partnerships in food systems, as well as women empowerment, advocacy efforts and capacity building among value chain actors are paramount.
By Wycliffe Kipsang, BEACON
The Sustainable Diets for All Programme seeks to improve the national and local food systems in order to achieve a more sustainable, affordable, healthy, nutritious and affordable foods for low-income earners. The programme focuses on citizen participation, lobby and advocacy (influencing policies and practices of market and government actors) and strengthening of advocacy capacities of civil society actors in implementing countries.
In Kenya, Hivos is working with Building Eastern Africa Community Network (BEACON) as the implementing partner. BEACON is a network of organizations championing sustainable resource management, resilient livelihood systems, governance and economic justice.