Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health: Support to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Program
Agriculture has made remarkable advances in the past decades, but progress in improving the nutrition and health of the poor in developing countries is lagging behind. Long-time IDRC partner, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is launching 15 new cutting-edge programs to tackle the problem. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 28% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa and 33% in South Asia are undernourished. Agricultural practices, interventions, and policies need to be better adapted and redesigned in order to maximize health and nutrition benefits and reduce health risks for the poor. Much agricultural research funding is spent on the "big three" grains: rice, maize and wheat. However, while these crops can provide a high number of calories, diets extremely high in grains may be lacking in micronutrients and protein. In addition, multidisciplinary research has been identified as a critical gap in the discourse on agriculture, nutrition, and health. A new cutting-edge program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) will bring together research and development professionals in agriculture, nutrition, and health to tackle key challenges and design solutions jointly. The research is intended to balance the traditional focus on total calories with specific initiatives on micronutrients, food safety, and value chains. Co-led by CGIAR's International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute, the program will target two populations: those who are poor, food insecure, and malnourished, and those negatively affected by agricultural intensification. Activities will take place in areas of high food insecurity, namely sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with major components in Latin America. The program will use a variety of research approaches including surveys, laboratory work, and applied work focusing on four key components: value chains, biofortification (the process of breeding staple crops to have higher levels of essential nutrients), control of agriculture-associated diseases, and integrated agriculture, nutrition, and health development programs and policies. Research is expected to improve nutrition and health in vulnerable populations, particularly for women and children. It has five major objectives: to improve the availability, access to, and intake of nutritious foods, to improve agricultural labour productivity, to reduce the risk of agriculture-related diseases, to improve gender and income equality, and to improve knowledge of food safety and nutrition. The innovative, multi-pronged approach to integrating policy and programs should result in clear implications for policy and practice that will improve nutrition and health.