Bringing agriculture and nutrition together

The UN sustainable development goals launched in 2015 consists of seventeen objectives that aim to build a better planet – the goals are varied ranging from zero hunger to clean water and sanitation. Each goal in turn has a number of targets which cover a wide range of aspects.

Some of the targets are level-headed though not necessarily realizable. Like the one that says that “by 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality”. Yet there are others that are knotty and stop short of critiquing the control of the market. Instead they go on to suggest that we need to “correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets…”

As per UNDP, “rapid economic growth and increased agricultural productivity over the past two decades have seen the number of undernourished people drop by almost half.” But still “extreme hunger and malnutrition remain a huge barrier to development in many countries. 795 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2014, often as a direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought and loss of biodiversity,” it says.

A recent discussion paper by International Food Policy Research Institute ‘Pathways from agriculture to nutrition in India: Implications for Sustainable Development Goals’ looks at this issue. It stresses that achieving the goals “will require translating agricultural and food production into nutrition security for whole populations.”

The paper looks at several pathways to attaining food and nutrition security – agriculture as a source of food; agriculture as a source of income for food and non-food expenditures; agricultural policy and food prices that affect food consumption; women in agricultural intra-household decision making and resource allocation; maternal employment in agriculture and its effect on childcare and feeding; and the effect of women’s work in agriculture on their own and their children’s nutrition and health status.

It provides “research-based evidence on the effectiveness of these pathways in the Indian context and the policy, institutional, technological, and resource impediments that exist along them.” It focuses on the performance of Indian states across different indicators that capture information. The main finding of the paper is a “serious disconnect in the performance of states along these different dimensions, which may be the main factor in the country’s dismal performance on the millennium development goals.”

This paper found that “southern states perform better on anthropometric indicators and have low levels of micronutrient deficiency diseases. One immediate conclusion that can be drawn from the main findings is that the southern states have better governance in ensuring food security, as is evident from their performance on the different indicators.”

The key finding is a “general lack of uniformity in food security status as measured by the different indicators along the pathways. This heterogeneity implies that a food security policy with a singular focus is not appropriate, given that there are more disconnects prevailing along the agriculture-to-nutrition pathways than linkages. In a way, this explains why food security policies in India have failed to reduce the high rates of malnutrition for decades and failed to help the country attain the millennium development goals.”

In addition, serious data gaps hinder efforts to tackle the problem of malnutrition. An integrated framework for measuring food and nutrition security, and implementing and monitoring relevant policies, is missing. Innovations in survey methodology are required to capture the different dimensions of food and nutrition security. More integrated and comparable surveys are required to draw sound policy conclusions.

“Policy interventions need to be more evidence based and should incorporate both short-term and long-term indicators of food security, going beyond calorie security. Without such comprehensive approaches, attaining the SDGs could be seriously compromised,” the paper says.

The paper can be read here

Image courtesy: Prerak Shah, Flickr Commons (CC BY NC-2.0)

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