Friday, 10 August 2012

Going for gold: Looking beyond the farm to solve malnutrition

By Ewan Robinson

Here in the UK, the Olympics are filling the airwaves, hallways and pubs alike. And the UK Government and development community are hoping to use Olympic fever to spotlight the global problems of hunger and malnutrition, by hosting a ‘hunger summit’ on the last day of the Games.

Connecting the Olympics and malnutrition seems slightly incongruous. But Prime Minister David Cameron may hope to use both as examples of UK leadership on the international scene.

Although the details are scant, it’s said the summit will be attended by heads of state, international NGOs and business leaders. Cameron will host the summit alongside Brazilian Vice President, Michel Temer. In addition to hosting the next Summer Olympics, Brazil is also seen as a nutrition champion, making substantial inroads using an integrated approach. If this is anything to go by, it appears that the Summit may represent part of a big push on nutrition by UK policymakers in the next year.

Lawrence Haddad recently asked how we can sustain all this attention on malnutrition in the long run. In this post and upcoming ones, I’ll look into one angle on tackling long-run undernutrition: the role of agriculture.

How can agriculture address the challenges of undernutrition?
Agriculture is a big issue on the nutrition agenda. A number of large agencies, donors and International NGOs have recently gotten excited about agriculture’s potential for improving nutrition. It sounds obvious: people need to eat nutritious food, and we need agriculture to grow it. But, as John Humphrey suggested in an earlier post, getting nutritious food from farm to fingers (or forks) turns out to be more complicated than you might expect.

Much of the work so far on agriculture and nutrition has focused on what happens on farms. A number of donors are looking to make their agricultural projects ‘nutrition sensitive’ in addition to increasing yields and incomes. But is this the only way agriculture connects with nutrition?

Are there ways that agriculture can bring better nutrition to the majority of people who don’t grow enough food for themselves? The key here is the value chains through which we get our food. I’ll explore this in my next post.

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