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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Let's move on to the next question:

Q2: How can we build, strengthen and scale up markets that provide nutritious foods to the people who need them most?

I think one thing we've seen is that if the goal is to promote better nutrition for low income households, it helps to focus on the crops they are already producing. For example, the efforts to substitute orange-fleshed (rich in beta carotene) for white-fleshed sweet potato (which is low in micronutrients). The advantages is the supply system was already there, and the food is low cost in local markets.

Dear Aimee, you are spot on on ensuring that the nutrient-dense foods reach the at-risk populations. The most sustainable way of reaching such populations will still remain through markets. Increasingly, markets are becoming the major sources of foods, even among the poor. Finding the right market-driven  innovations that deliver nutrients/foods at the right price-points is the sure way to go.

Yes Ewan this is true. I feel that with scale and technology we can have joint storage and distribution channels in order to share overheads. For distribution, we have reduced the cost to the final consumer by reducing on packaging therefore we encourage the customers to bring bottles or containers so that they only pay for the milk. The milk has a longer shelf life after pasteurization. We also encourage then to buy daily since our deliveries are daily.

We need to place greater emphasis on raising awareness about the need for diverse diets and in turn creating demand for nutritious foods among the wider community. 

However, demand can only be driven so high without products being available in the market and as a small or medium sized company it can be extremely difficult to access the finance necessary to start and maintain your business through the early stages. Lenders are often risk averse and the amounts required are often low and therefore labour intensive for the lender.  There should be mechanisms to innovatively finance such businesses beyond the traditional mechanisms.

Hi all, Jonathan Tench here from the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network.

Under SUN we're seeing many countries wanting to learn how to integrate their agriculture and nutrition plans, we're finding lots of success in increasing agriculture production across African markets - but stunting and malnutrition rates staying stubbornly high. Business can play a key role in developing nutrition sensitive agricultural practices. 

We have learnt that it doesn't have to be expensive but sometimes it requires a complete overhaul of the supply chain for the reasons you have mentioned. One challenge is that many businesses are still trying to use the "old" supply chain to deliver a completely new product which makes it impossible or expensive. In some cases you may have to shift to Just-in-time production and get deeper in distribution but many aren't exploring these options. We need more innovation in supply chains more than we need in products 

I have heard that even trying to switch mindsets from white-flesh to orange is very challenging based on tradition and levels of education.  Have you had any particular success in helping people feel good about switching to a more nutritious food and knowing how they are halping their families?  Or is that a challenging hurdle as well?

Welcome, Jonathan.

We've found there are some characteristics about markets for nutritious food that create some challenges for achieving scale and sustainability:

Reaching the Bottom of the Pyramid. it costs more to distribute products to low income populations, due to poor infrastructure, low population densities, low spending power. So there's the assumption that a business model needs to achieve large scale to get efficiencies

• That's made more challenging by low consumer demand, since most of the potential consumers don't really understand nutritional needs, and may not see it as a priority (this is also a problem in Europe and North America).

• Then there's what we call ‘Invisible nutrition’. The nutritional quality of many foods (especially processed ones) is ‘invisible’. You can't distinguish a package of maize meal and one that has been fortified. And in most countries, the systems to enforce claims on labels and advertisements are not in place. So consumers don’t trust labels and businesses can't really differentiate nutritious products from the rest.

We think to get real scale, programmes and partnerships need to tackle these problems head on. That could mean particular partnerships, platforms or policy efforts.

Welcome, Peter, and thanks for sharing your insights.

Thanks Clement. Sounds like a really innovative model. Is it difficult to be able to reach your customers and convince them to change their behaviour - so they buy daily?

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