February 13, 2012

Linking Agriculture and Nutrition to Fight Poverty

ACDI/VOCA Event Spotlights Integration of Nutrition and Ag Development

Does combining agricultural development with nutrition interventions lead to better nutrition for smallholder farmers? How can different implementation approaches and program models improve nutritional outcomes? What tools can help achieve both reduced poverty and better nutrition?

These were some of the questions that development practitioners grappled with at a Feb. 2 conference in Washington, D.C., titled “Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition Outcomes.”

ACDI/VOCA organized the event to shed light on efforts to integrate nutrition and agricultural value chain initiatives to foster discussion on the challenges to, and innovations in, integrated food security programming. Over 140 development practitioners from nearly 60 organizations heard two panel discussions on linking nutrition and agriculture and a presentation on activities in Liberia.

Paul Guenette, ACDI/VOCA’s senior vice president for corporate affairs, introduced the keynote speaker, Kristin Penn, who plays a key role in efforts to reduce poverty and hunger as senior technical advisor for USAID’s Feed the Future initiative.

Good Data is Essential

Penn noted that there is solid evidence that economic growth can bring about poverty reduction. The evidence is weak, however, that economic growth leads to better nutrition.

“We’ve got to do something as a community to strengthen the causal pathway between economic growth, agricultural growth and improved nutrition outcomes,” said Penn, “It will take all of us together to respond to this challenge.”

She emphasized the need for good data, proper indicators and rigorous analysis on the link between nutrition and poverty reduction. She exhorted the audience to gather good information, look carefully at Feed the Future’s results framework and think critically about whether it is measuring the right indicators.

Reaching the Very Poor

One obstacle to improving nutrition is that value chain interventions do not generally reach the very poor or involve participants from vulnerable households. To integrate these most vulnerable beneficiaries and measure nutritional impact, practitioners must change their approaches, acquire new skills and figure out what works.

The first panel examined challenges, opportunities and innovations in reaching the poor through projects that integrate agriculture and nutrition. Panelists included Angelina Tracy, director in ACDI/VOCA’s agribusiness practice area; Heather Danton, senior director for food security and livelihoods, Save the Children Federation; and Ashley Aakesson, nutrition program officer, PATH.

Positive Changes in Liberia

Farmers in Liberia grow nutritious crops, but they often miss out on their nutritional benefits. In some cases, traditional beliefs about specific fruits or vegetables may prevent households from using them as food. In other cases, nutritious crops are sold for income instead of consumed at home.

ACDI/VOCA volunteer and nutrition expert Cindy Leep and her husband, Richard Leep, a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer and expert in agriculture, described seeing crops ruined in transport to markets; diets high in starch and low in protein, vitamins and minerals; and a lack of business knowledge among poor farmers in Liberia.

But the Leeps, who spent three weeks in Liberia supporting ACDI/VOCA agriculture programs, also saw farmers using innovative technologies to reduce costs, adopting sound business practices, and introducing nutritious fruits, vegetables and dairy into their diets.

Nutrition education, Cindy Leep said, is essential for changing behavior.

Tools to Improve Integration

Efforts to integrate nutrition interventions with agricultural programs are still relatively new, but some emerging tools and practices show promise of success.

In the second panel, presenters discussed ways to build the capacity of beneficiaries, stakeholders and program staff and to meet the dual aims of poverty reduction and better household nutrition.

Panelists included Matt Freeman, acting director for business development at GAIN and Ladd, senior technical director for nutrition in ACDI/VOCA’s food security practice area. ACDI/VOCA’s Ryan Larrance moderated the panel.

More Information

Pictured at top left: USAID Feed the Future's Kristin Penn speaks at ACDI/VOCA's Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition Outcomes event.