How countries around the world are leveraging agriculture to improve nutrition

By Shenggen Fan, Sivan Yosef, and Rajul Pandya-Lorch

This blog post is the third in a 3-part series accompanying the release of the book Agriculture for Improved Nutrition: Seizing the Momentum, co-edited by Shenggen Fan, Sivan Yosef, and Rajul Pandya-Lorch (co-published by CABI Publishing and IFPRI). The book was launched at a Feb. 28 event at IFPRI headquarters in Washington.

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Bean varieties at the CIAT gene bank in Colombia. The gene bank sends its seeds for conservation at the Global Seed Vault in Norway. Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 Neil Palmer / CIAT

At times, engaging the agriculture sector to improve nutrition seems like an uphill battle. In many countries, agricultural policies tend to favor staple foods like wheat and rice, because these crops have traditionally staved off hunger and famine. Government officials overseeing agriculture and nutrition often work in isolation, with their funding, capacities, and even technical languages obstacles to close collaboration. Against this backdrop, it can be daunting for policymakers to contemplate formulating nutrition-driven agriculture policies and strategies that can be implemented at the national scale.

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Growing agriculture: nutrition community points the way to achieving SDG2 by 2030

By Shenggen Fan, Sivan Yosef, and Rajul Pandya-Lorch

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have launched a race to transform our world for the better little more than a decade from now. The goals are idealistic, setting a high bar for every aspect of quality of life, from health and education to gender equality and climate action. SDG2 seeks to eliminate global hunger by 2030. But as we move closer to that deadline, achieving SDG2 seems further away. Recent years have been particularly disheartening, with the number of undernourished people continuing to rise annually. In 2015, there were 784 million hungry people in the world; in 2016, 804 million; and in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, that number reached 821 million people. Adult obesity also continues to worsen in rich and poor countries alike: More than 1 in 8 adults, or 672 million people around the world, are now considered obese.

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A woman examines and sorts iron beans in Rwanda. Nutrition-sensitive agricultural programs, such as biofortification or homestead food production systems, may be well suited for increasing people’s consumption of high-quality diets. Photo courtesy of IFPRI (Mel Oluoch/HarvestPlus)

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There’s a new goal post for agriculture: it’s nutrition

By Shenggen Fan, Sivan Yosef, and Rajul Pandya-Lorch

Agriculture is the single most important innovation in human history. Over the course of thousands of years, it has staved off hunger, allowed populations to leave their hunter-gatherer lives behind, and freed up time for other pursuits (like inventing writing and the wheel!) that have propelled societies forward. As recently as the 1970s the Green Revolution – a global push to improve and produce more wheat and rice – brought India back from the brink of mass famine. The Green Revolution improved the lives of one billion people around the world. This number is all the more impressive when considering that the world population was four billion at the time.

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A global push to produce more rice brought India back from the brink of famine in the 1970s.

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Did I really eat that?

Photographing food can help dietitians assess diets more easily
Photographing food can help dietitians assess diets more easily. Photo by Ruth Hartnup

There’s been a thing on social media for a while of photographing what you’re about to eat – whether it’s to brag about what fancy restaurants you go to or to show off your cooking skills, with hashtags such as #Eatingfortheinsta, #foodie and #foodporn. But food photography could play a useful role in helping dietitians to measure more accurately what people are eating.

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How crop diversity could help secure our future food supply

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Diversity within maize. Image source: Sam Fentress, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1293212

16 October is World Food Day (#WFD2016); this year’s theme is ‘Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.’ Jennifer Cunniff, plant scientist in CABI’s editorial team looks at how harnessing crop diversity is vital for us to meet the challenge.

Of the wide variety of edible plant species growing on our planet it’s amazing how few of them we actually include in our diet. Around 30 000 edible plant species are known, yet only 30 of these feed the world, and we are heavily reliant on a handful of cereals – rice, bread wheat, maize, millets and sorghum – provide 60% of the energy intake of the world population (FAO). This narrowing of our food base largely started with the advent of farming – before then, there is plentiful archaeological evidence that shows we were foraging across a much wider breadth of plant species (e.g. Weiss et al. 2004; Fairbairn et al. 2006). Once we formed settled societies we began to focus on crops that offered the best level of return and were best adapted to the cultivated environments we created. Furthermore, even though multiple accessions1 of our widely grown cereal species exist (naturally and through breeding) only a few dozen are grown on a wide scale. This strategy has consequences – genetic variability for adaptation to future climate change is lost.

1 A single collected variety or cultivar. It could be a wild variety, a landrace or a bred cultivar.

 

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Climate change to cause more diet related deaths

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A young man in drought conditions in Ethiopia (Author: USAID African Bureau)


We are all told to improve our diet; increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption and reducing our red meat intake. But a new study, ‘Global and regional health effects of future food production under climate change; a modelling study,’ published in The Lancet has revealed that climate change may make eating our 5 a day more challenging, and that subsequent dietary shifts and changes in body weight will lead to more than half a million additional deaths worldwide by 2050.

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The sugar industry and the World Health Organization – still at odds

Pixabay_crystalI recently attended the International Sugar Organization’s annual conference in London, hoping to hear Dr. Francesco Branca of the World Health Organization explaining the rationale for the WHO’s recommendations on how much sugar people should eat, and see what response he got from the assembled sugar industry representatives and how he responded to that. As a reasonably independent observer (CABI publishes Sugar Industry Abstracts, but does much work on nutrition and health as well) I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately, however, he didn’t turn up due to other commitments, and sent a video presentation instead.

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