By John Humphrey, Institute of Development Studies
Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are facing dire food crises. According to the ONE Campaign, the famine in Somalia could kill 750,000 human beings unless donors intervene. Meanwhile, in 2008, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported that approximately 32% of Africans are undernourished.
The private sector, in partnership with donors, may hold a unique key to unlocking the complex challenge of global hunger. There are no easy answers and reducing levels of under-nutrition remains a difficult target to achieve. Nevertheless, some promising, innovative approaches are being developed that bring together a range of stakeholders in all sectors.
There is potential, for example, for agricultural and agri-food value chains to be leveraged to improve food quality and diversity. To date, businesses and public-private partnerships have been effective in improving agricultural productivity by incorporating farmers into agri-food value chains. These initiatives both increase the production of food and raise the incomes of households.
Unfortunately, there’s a twist. Even in countries that have successfully raised production of basic food commodities, undernourishment persists. One might think that a higher level of food production and raised incomes would also lead directly to improvements in nutrition and health. But in fact, the links from agricultural output and incomes to improved nutrition are quite weak. Greater availability and access to staple foods needs to be complemented by greater consumption of foods that have the vitamins, minerals and proteins essential for health. This means not only increasing production of more diverse, nutritious food, but also ensuring that that undernourished people gain access to it.
Development agencies are increasingly exploring the potential for linking agriculture and nutrition more effectively to ensure that improvements in food production translate more readily into improvements in diets and nutrition for the undernourished.
One way of achieving this is by encouraging greater consumption on the farms themselves by the households producing more nutritious food. Another way of strengthening the link between agricultural output and nutrition is by focusing on agri-food value chains. An emphasis on value chains can help preserve the nutritional content of food from farm to table and to find more effective ways of delivering food at affordable prices to the households who need it most.
An integrated approach such as this would also require leadership from national governments and development agencies, which have thus far kept agriculture and nutrition in distinct departmental silos. Indeed, leadership and collaboration is needed from all sectors – public, private, and NGOs.
The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) is a leading global charity for international development research, teaching and communications.
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