As governments face up to food security challenges by focusing on production, they must learn that not all agricultural policies are nutrition-enhancing
Global investment in energy-dense cereal crops during the ‘green revolution’ made nutritious foods more expensive. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian
The world today faces a complex challenge – improving nutrition for all. Contrary to how malnutrition is often portrayed in western media, it is not a separate problem for the poor (undernutrition) and for the rich (overnutrition). Around the world, this double burden of food-related illness is very much a challenge for the poor, simply because nutritious foods tend to be more difficult obtain or more expensive.
So if we are concerned about development, poverty reduction and economic growth, we should be thinking about malnutrition in this broad sense, as well as the food and agricultural systems that influence what is available, affordable and consumed.
A range of specific agricultural interventions for better nutrition have been trialled, but it’s not yet clear how effective they are. In a recently published paper, the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health and the University of Aberdeen looked at 150 agriculture programmes, ranging from breeding staple crops with higher micronutrient levels, to encouraging home gardening and small animal and fish production in households and communities. They showed that, while these programmes were promising, the majority were not measuring nutritional outcomes effectively. For example, just producing more nutritious food does not mean it will be consumed by people suffering from malnutrition. Similarly, efforts to address unhealthy, energy-dense and nutrient-poor diets have had some promising results, but research is still limited and methods need improvement.
Cyprus International Institute (CII) (Harvard School of Public Health) http://Cyprus-Institute.us