Research program to find ways agriculture can boost nutrition and improve lives
John McDermott is the Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.
Global and local leaders, including those of the G8 countries meeting in Northern Ireland June 17-18, are waking up to the human and economic toll undernutrition is taking on developing countries and making commitments to dramatically reduce the burden of stunting and micronutrient deficiency. The moral and economic imperatives for doing so are compelling, as new research just released in The Lancet Maternal and Child Health series, shows that 3.1 million children are dying of malnutrition every year.
On Saturday, June 8, the Government of Canada demonstrated its commitment to the fight against malnutrition by announcing an important new contribution, CDN$20 million in new funding to the CGIAR Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) program.
For the past several years, the agriculture and food sector has been playing a greater role in the fight against undernutrition: communities, civil society, and NGOs are implementing joint agriculture and nutrition actions; and governments, development banks, and companies are beginning to align their agricultural investment plans and policies with nutrition goals. CGIAR began the A4NH program in 2012 as part of the global research partnership’s commitment to review and change their research programs to make them more relevant and effective in supporting better nutrition and health.
Canada’s contribution will allow the A4NH program to accelerate new impact-oriented research by:
- supporting researchers’ work with program implementers to design and implement integrated agriculture and health programs to improve the diets of many more mothers and children;
- expanding new research with community and farmer organizations, and private-sector actors, for workable technical and market solutions to increase the supply and reduce the price of nutritious foods for poor consumers;
- designing and evaluating strategies for scaling up the delivery and reach of effective nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions, such as providing nutrient-rich foods and micronutrient-enhanced staples, in new partnerships with development banks and large-scale public and private food distribution systems; and
- conducting research to combine new technologies with enhanced capacity and market-based innovations to reduce alarming risks to poor producers and consumers from mycotoxins in maize and groundnuts and microbes in perishable foods.
While this support is crucial, it must be combined with committed partnerships and strengthened capacity of implementing partners and communities if this research is to contribute to improving the nutrition and health of mothers, children, and communities. For that reason, we in the A4NH program are jointly developing impact pathways and theories of change that determine the priorities, partnerships, and capacity development in each of our impact areas. These jointly designed frameworks allow our partners to evaluate and improve their performance, and for our beneficiaries and investors to evaluate us.
For too long, the nutrition and health of mothers and children in poor communities has been neglected. There is overwhelming evidence of the long-term social and economic benefits of eliminating chronic undernutrition. This will require greater concerted effort in providing nutrition-specific short-term interventions as well as aligning agriculture and other critical development sectors to improve nutrition. Most stunted children are in low-income agrarian countries. Transforming agriculture to improve the nutrition, health, and livelihoods of mothers and children is one of the best investments in humanity’s future.