How to Scale and Sustain Access to More Nutritious Foods?

Everyone agrees that the world needs to make a fundamental shift towards building better, more nutritious and sustainable food systems.    Integrating nutrition in to the food value chain and reducing food waste is one important part of the equation, but making nutritious food more available and affordable to the most poor and vulnerable is also critical.

Despite nutrition and agriculture being inextricably linked, the two sectors have remained largely separate. Yet significant efforts and resources are now being made available to bridge the gap.   These include investments in research to develop more economically viable nutritious crop varieties,  support and incentives for farmers to grow more nutritious foods, and behaviour change communications programmes to create demand for nutritious foods.   

Yet experience is showing that agricultural production alone does not guarantee that nutritious foods reach the people that need them most. In response, a range of players are attempting to build markets that make nutritious foods more accessible, affordable and desirable to low income populations.    All these efforts are marked by a growing interest amongst the private, public and voluntary sectors to work together to find scaleable and sustainable solutions.     With much of this collaboration still at the pilot stage, there is a pressing need to draw on the evidence of what works and to progress towards more systematic and scaleable approaches.

Timed to coincide with World Food Day on 16th October, this online discussion aims to discuss how to scale up and sustain efforts to increase the supply of and demand for nutritious foods, especially amongst the world’s most vulnerable groups.

Key questions for the discussion include:

  1. Where are the greatest opportunities to integrate nutrition in to agriculture?
  2. How can we build, strengthen and scale up markets that provide nutritious foods to the people who need them most?
  3. Where are the innovations happening to support greater supply of and demand for nutritious foods, and what are we learning about what works?

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Good afternoon. My name is Clement Mwangi, Managing Director of Maziwa King Limited based out of Nairobi, Kenya. We distribute pasteurized milk to low income neighbourhoods of Nairobi using coin operated milk dispensing machines.

Hi everyone,

I'm a researcher at the Institute of Development Studies. We've been researching food markets and nutrition in a number of countries for the past few years. There are quite a few partnerships and platforms trying innovative things, and we've learned a lot about what has worked and where the systemic challenges are. Very much looking forward to the discussion and to hearing from those involved in projects and partnerships.

At the inputs into food production stage this includes increased use of micronutrient fertilizers, diverse horticultural seeds, nutrient-dense biofortified crop varieties (Orange fleshed sweet potato vines, HQPM seeds, High beta-carotene cassava cuttings etc.). This can only be achieved through partnerships that include agricultural scientists, extension services, seed companies, fertilizer companies, farmer cooperatives etc.

At the food production level, there are opportunities to work with farmers and farmers’ organizations and contract growers to improve crop diversity on farms that can result in not only having a wider range of products available in the market but also into dietary diversity for the producer households and contract workers themselves. GAIN for instance is working in a consortium funded by USAID where we are promoting production of nutritious foods among pastoral communities in Kenya that have never practiced crop husbandry. We have introduced high value, nutrient dense crops like carrots for their consumption and sale to generate income.

My personal focus is on the retail of pasteurized whole milk at low costs – safe milk has historically been out of reach for low income consumers in Kenya (It is estimated that 80% of milk in Kenya is consumed raw). As a company we do not currently produce the milk ourselves and during certain, dry, times of the year there is the potential for problems sourcing adequate quantities of milk to meet demand. This can only really be secured when procuring large volumes, making it difficult for companies to start out without significant funds.

Interventions are required along the entire value chain if we are to ensure that a diverse range of foods are consistently accessible (improved infrastructure, new technologies to expand product market chains, innovative storage and distribution solutions) and affordable for all communities and not just those with high disposable income.

I think the concept of ensuring that nutrient-dense diverse foods be available to at-risk populations is a very important topic. The question for me is how that can be done in the most effective way?  In terms of managing the supply chain, how can we ensure the right nutrients reach the people who need it?  What parameters need to be in place to ensure that there is a balance across all of the micro and macro nutrients that are made available?

Welcome, Ewan.

Poor post-harvest handling can often account for a significant loss of nutrients in several food value chains. Lots of cereals and legumes are affected by aflatoxins during storage for example. There is therefore an opportunity at food storage and home processing level to promote commodity storage options that improve food safety, reduce exposure to heat and sun for better retention of the heat- labile nutrients, reduced refinement of grains to preserve nutrient content, improved cold storage and other preservation methods to extend shelf-life.

At consumer level, promotion of good nutrition is paramount to leverage the benefits of agriculture for better nutrition and it is, of course, of vital importance that nutritious foods are available at locations and in quantities and at prices that  both accessible and affordable to those that need them the most.

The greatest opportunities existing in raising the standards of what goes to the market, for example since the government on Kenya made it compulsory for maize to be fortified, the poor can access more nutritious flour than before. in addition we need more investment by both public and private institutions in scaling up innovations that enhance nutrition e.g. commercialization of more nutritious varieties of crops.   

In a number of cases, we've seen that the high value nutritious crops and animals foods fetch on the market makes it challenging to ensure the poorest households - including farmers themselves - have access to these foods. What have you all learned about making sure these products are affordable and accessible?

Another issue we've encountered is perishability. Where nutritious foods have short shelf lives (for example, milk), there's a need to build a supply chain to preserve them, and we've seen lots of technological innovations to do this. But it ultimately adds to the price of the end-product and again, this can put it out of reach. Any lessons to share?

A key limiter is the marketing and branding of nutritious food in our markets. Most of the nutritious foods in the market are sold as premium products other than as essentials which isolates the majority of the population. The private companies need to change their message and positioning of nutrition 

Am Mbiyu checking-in from Nairobi and it is a pleasure to join this discussion 

It would be interesting to know what would be the definition of "more nutritious" varieties of crops.  What are the most important nutrients?  What is the current gap?  Do we need crops that are higher in protein?  MOre vitamin A fortified crops?  Iron-rich crops?  What are the most important nutrients that can be researched and potentially be targeted for different crops?  

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