An overview of an address to the Public Seminar on “The potential of value chains for nutrition: A knowledge exchange for better informed policies and practices” in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Food systems in high, low, and medium-income countries are complex, dynamic, and changing. In order to determine appropriate nutrition-sensitive interventions within these systems, one must consider the context of a particular food system holistically, including the policies, actors, sectors, and tradeoffs relevant to meeting the desired nutrition and health objectives.
The cost of hunger studies done by Ethiopia in collaboration with the World Food Programme estimated a 16.5 percent loss of GDP due to undernutrition and if one were to factor in impacts of other forms of malnutrition, this cost would be even higher. However, Ethiopia has made significant investments in staple food production and as a result has experienced tremendous progress on increasing supply of calories from staple foods from the situation in the 1980s. But, meeting dietary diversity to attain better nutrition and health has lagged significantly farther behind, with only nine percent of children 6-23 months meeting their minimum diet diversity based on the 2016 Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey. Even fewer of the children – seven percent – met their minimum acceptable diets which also takes into account meal frequency.
Therefore, the keynote presentation by Belay Terefe of A4NH in Ethiopia put forward the following seven key entry points to addressing better quality diets through holistic value chains and food systems approaches:
- An enabling policy environment which happens to be very positive in Ethiopia.
- Increasing production of fruits and vegetables given that these have increased in price along with animal source foods over the past 10 years yet are critical to improving diet diversity and diet quality.
- Transport, storage and cold chain infrastructure improvement need investments that can be leveraged for better quality diets. While the private sector can play a significant role national investment in road infrastructure to reach the millions of smallholder farmers across the country is critical. Sufficient infrastructure is key to getting more perishable foods to market and accessible to both urban and rural settings.
- Food safety improvement is a critical component of better diets and should be addressed right across the food value chain from production to consumption.
- Food processing technologies that promote healthy eating are needed to mitigate against increasing consumption of sugars, fats and oils that can lead to increases in prevalence of overweight and related health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
- An effective regulatory environment is needed to ensure that good quality standards are enforced across the board.
- Engagement of Ethiopian academic institutions in applied research to generate contextual solutions is needed to support development of value chains and food systems that promote improved nutrition and health outcomes.
Ethiopia is one of the focus countries for the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH)’s Flagship Research Program “Food Systems for Healthier Diets.” The program considers food systems first and foremost from the perspective of the consumer: their wants, their needs, their access, their circumstances, and believes that, in order to improve the quality of the diet, one must begin by taking this approach.
The program also takes a holistic approach to food systems because it recognizes just how interlinked all players are. For example, the private sector may wish to invest in technologies to improve the cold chain in Ethiopia, thereby improving customer access to perishables such as dairy and meat, but an extensive transport infrastructure is needed to support such developments. In a food systems approach, everyone has a role to play, and everyone has to work together, to ensure people have access to a healthy diet.
Ethiopia is poised to make these improvements, with an enabling policy environment and interest in investment. A4NH stands as a partner, willing to provide analysis, data, and information needed to help improve food systems in Ethiopia, to ensure Ethiopians for generations to come are able to lead healthier lives.
Namukolo Covic is the Senior Research Coordinator and Belay Terefe is a Research Associate for the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) in Ethiopia. This piece is based on a keynote presentation given at the third international workshop of the Food & Business Applied Research Fund, held from February 13 to 16, 2018.