Linking good Nutrition to Agriculture during pandemic

There are highly notable misses in the context of Agri-Nutrition.

In Summary

•The cycle can either be used to our advantage where if we focus on both fields intentionally, they will both give positive results, but segregating them will only lead to dysfunctional system, sick populations and disappointments.

•It is thus time we came together to focus on smart-agriculture, improving nutritional outcomes and building more inclusive and efficient value chains.

Agriculture and nutrition share a common entry point: “food.”/WORLD BANK
Agriculture and nutrition share a common entry point: “food.”/WORLD BANK

Agri-Nutrition has been hitting attention in our times as people and and major world conglomerates aim at helping to address emerging issues including the double burden of malnutrition and increasing prevalence’s of hunger and food related deaths.

Food being the key outcome of agriculture is the key input of good and sustainable nutrition.

The recent global pandemic has per-see helped to test the resilience of our agriculture systems and also test the sustainability of the food production systems and how likely they are able to survive another global pandemic, how able they are to remain standing when everything else shuts down and also how likely they are able to preserve human life in terms of their nutrition compositions, production, sustainability and accessibility of safe, diverse organic foods.

In the recent past, focus on food has been on how the food produced can be enriched, fortified or modified so as to help address issues of child stunting, dietary diversity and ‘nutrient rich’ foods in recognition of the growing burdens of malnutrition and non-communicable diseases.

This has seen many opportunities being missed since the key point of address in the focus of using food to help address the upcoming issues should begin at the production(cultivation of the soil, growing of the crops, harvesting and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting product).

Surprisingly, there are highly notable misses in the context of Agri-Nutrition yet the issues and the gate way for focusing on Agri-Nutrition is captured in multiple policies and world declarations including in the SDGs in SDG 2’ End hunger and food and nutrition security’.

In Kenya it is addressed in the constitution ‘The right to food’, in the Vision 2030 blueprint ‘Investment in Agriculture for food and nutrition security’.

And also in the current administrations big 4 agenda, one of the 4 points of focus is ‘food security and nutrition’ which aims for increased access to nutritious foods for all Kenyans through multi-sectorial engagement.

The nutrition aspects in all those declarations and policies are anchored on Usage of under-uterised and nutritious food, Increasing nutrition content of staple foods across the globe,Reducing over-dependence on the staple foods of different communities and reduction of chronic food and diet related health problems including food insecurity.

The agricultural aspect in the policies and declaration are focused on need for contextual behavior change at the community levels where food in produced, Establishment of local food composition tables at the community levels, Platforms for experience sharing in the role of agriculture in improving nutritional outcomes of crops and Bridging the disconnect between agriculture and nutrition.

The question that can now linger on our minds I believe would be; what can we do?

I am a believer that at the end of the day, food is what matters and it is what every individual whether rich or poor gets to think about. And this is the foothold we can all anchor on and help bring everybody together to help raise the issues of the food we are consuming and producing.

More often than not, half of the current diets that we are consuming are either modified or factory produced. Encompassing this fact with the realization that almost 40% of all the foods produced I the farm go to waste should help us see that there is a big mis-link between the agriculture part and the food/dietary part.

No wonder during the recent global lockdown a lot of people went back and started engaging in the farming activities since food factories almost came to a halt the rate of hunger short up yet crop farming and growing greatly improved plus the realization that the key to good immunity could only be found in natural food.

Opportunities of integrating agriculture and nutrition for a healthier, hunger free and production of sustainable diets are multiple if only we care to look around.The first staring point should be realizing that agriculture and nutrition both share a common entry point 'food'.

It is again important to note that without agriculture, there is little food thus leading to poor nutrition and availability of agriculture does not necessary mean there shall be good nutrition.

One reasonable step to take to help address this disconnect yet symbiotic relationship would be by providing education to the food producers in order to enhance behavioral change.

This will help change their view so that they don’t just see what they are growing as crops for profit but to see them as food/ diet that will be presented at the table.

With change of view, it shall help address the issues of soil preparation, inputs being used and nurturing of the crops at their early stages to help reduce wastage and use of health harming crop inputs.

Two would be addressing the issuer of storage, packaging distribution of foods to help reach a wider population.

This should also help in reducing the demand of factory produced foods and increasing the need of healthier food. If this is achieved, food insecurity and rate of food wastages shall reduce.

The long term effect of this will be healthier people thus increase human resource for increased farming activities and also increased financial resources streaming back to the farmers and Agricultural sector thus helping more production of healthier foods.

Third would be funding more research work and innovative ideas including fortification, enrichment and diversification of the diets which shall help Address the issues of over-reliance to the staple foods only and shall also help address the issues of emerging health issues which occur due to lack of proper diets.

It is thus evident that agriculture and nutrition is a cycle that cannot be broken and both fields also happen to be in a symbiotic relationship.

The cycle can either be used to our advantage where if we focus on both fields intentionally, they will both give positive results, but segregating them will only lead to dysfunctional system, sick populations and disappointments.

It is thus time we came together to focus on smart-agriculture, improving nutritional outcomes and building more inclusive and efficient value chains.

Millan Ochieng Otieno is a consultant at Nutrition Association of Kenya and Consultant Nutrition and Dietetics Academy