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Impacts of Agriculture on Nutrition: Nature of the Evidence and ...

Impacts of Agriculture on Nutrition: Nature of the Evidence and ...

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Research Centre in Canada (IDRC), and the Department for International Development ong>ofong> the UK(DFID).6Most ong>ofong> this research is focused on specific agricultural interventions directed at improving the outputong>ofong> nutrient-rich foods, be it through biong>ofong>ortification, productivity enhancements, or promotion ong>ofong>indigenous/traditional foods. A second set ong>ofong> research projects focuses on value-chain promotion fornutrition. Roughly 46 ong>ofong> the 151 studies have a specific focus on children (18 on children under 2 yearsong>ofong> age), and those same 46 typically also have some concern for women in general (10 on pregnant orlactating mothers, 12 on women ong>ofong> reproductive age).The timeframes for the identified research activities range from just a year to many years (from 2012),meaning that new evidence will be materializing on an ongoing basis for some time to come. That said,the analysis identified some important “poorly researched areas” (indeed, research designs ong>ofong>ten stillleave much to be desired), including 8 specific gaps:i) Many research projects do not consider the pathways from changes in agriculture inputs oractivities through value chains, through uses ong>ofong> commodities and income, to consumptionand nutrition outcomes.ii) The indirect effects on nutrition ong>ofong> changes in income derived from enhanced agriculture.iii) The effects ong>ofong> policies on nutrition, mediated through relative prices and value chaineffects.iv) Governance and the policy process relating to the integration ong>ofong> agriculture, nutrition andother sectors ong>ofong> the economy.v) Attention to appropriate metrics and relevant methodologies for demonstrating linksbetween agriculture and nutrition.vi) Consumers separate from producers, including non-agricultural rural consumers, the urbanpoor, etc.vii)viii)Nutritional risks beyond undernutrition (such a non-communicable diseases)Cost-effectiveness ong>ofong> alternative gains in nutrition (versus agriculture) or among potentialalternatives in agriculture.Thus, while the field ong>ofong> research on leveraging agriculture for nutrition will continue to grow in comingyears, it will be increasingly important to ensure that the opportunities are not lost to generate thebest possible quality ong>ofong> evidence to support decision makers making difficult choices.Implications for Future ResearchAs it currently exists, the empirical knowledge base on agriculture’s impacts on nutrition can besummarized in the words ong>ofong> Hawkes et al. (2012): “Despite the clear potential for agricultural changeto improve nutrition in low and middle income countries, the evidence base for this relationship ispoor. Recent systematic reviews ong>ofong> studies which have evaluated agricultural interventions forimproving nutrition reveal little strong evidence ong>ofong> impact, and a need for more and better designedresearch.” It is important to underline that this does not mean that the potential does not exist, or thatpositive impacts are not being achieved today; rather that, a) too few interventions have invested in

appropriately measuring their impact or cost-effectiveness, and b) researchers continue to pay toolittle attention to study design and methodological rigor.7This suggests that more coordinated efforts are needed to reach consensus on strategic prioritiesamong the information gaps and to define how best (and who best) to fill those gaps. Many partnershave to be involved across many disciplines and sectors to support both awareness and evidenceinformedactions. In terms ong>ofong> research, there is an urgent need for agreed thresholds ong>ofong> necessaryevidence (prototypes ong>ofong> research designs and standardized metrics) that are appropriate for enhancedmonitoring and evaluation ong>ofong> nutrition-specific (direct) and nutrition-sensitive (indirect) policies andprogrammes. Such agreement on common frameworks and methods goes beyond agriculture-nutritionlinkages. While the rationale for a multi-sectoral approach has been clearly articulated, there is clearlylimited evidence on the policies and programme alternatives that can be considered when seekingsignificant effects on nutrition. As more countries adopt multi-sector plans, there is a need forguidelines on research design and metrics relevant to these kinds ong>ofong> complex interventions.The Nutrition CRSP will seek to contribute to both ong>ofong> these goals: facilitating dialogue and engagementacross stakeholders on priority needs, ong>ofong>fering relevant empirical findings from field and processresearch (particularly relating to the research gaps numbered iv) through viii) identified by Hawkes etal. 2012), while also supporting institutional and individual capacity building for developing countriesto conduct their own policy-relevant research. The NCRSP will work with its government, academicand civil society partners to provide platforms for creating awareness about “what works” for policyong>ofong>ficials and implementers at all levels. The goal has to be to ensure that the next time a globalsystematic review ong>ofong> agriculture-nutrition-health linkages is conducted, that the conclusion is not‘evidence is lacking’, but presents concrete conclusions based on rigorously designed studies.

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