Nutrition starts with what we eat


We need a new definition of malnutrition. Malnutrition means under and over-nutrition. Malnutrition means emaciated and obese.” – Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (1992 – 2002).

Can you imagine – by 2050, the world’s population could reach an estimated 9 billion. That’s 2 billion more mouths to feed. In order for us to live a healthy and productive life, we will require nutritious diets. Despite the important relationship between the food we grow and the food we eat, the agriculture and nutrition sectors are only just now beginning to overcome the decades of disconnect. One can only look at the high rates of malnutrition and poverty among farming communities as a stark reminder that the link between agriculture and nutrition must be fixed.

At first glance, it can be said that once people have a supply of food, they will automatically meet their nutritional requirements. But this is far from the truth and is much more complex, as I would seek to open your appetite on this issue. In a world of food abundance, millions of people suffer from poor nutrition and millions are overweight. In many regions, the poor have inadequate access to energy sources to meet their daily energy requirements. Elsewhere, others often consume excessive amounts of energy, but the nutritional quality of their diets is less than desirable.

Two sides of the same coin

On one side, a lack of nutritious food leads to micronutrient deficiencies such as Vitamin A, iron, zinc, and iodine, which are the most widespread nutritional deficiencies globally, affecting both women and young children.

In contrast, a set of very different nutrition related outcomes affect people whose nutrient intakes exceed their energy requirements, resulting in obesity and various chronic diseases associated with excessive weight, including heart disease and diabetes. Overweight and obesity are now highly prevalent in many regions of the world, including the Caribbean.

Better nutrition and better lives through agriculture

Nutrition matters for agriculture. Reducing under-nutrition improves the wellbeing of farmers and people living in rural areas. Increasing the knowledge of nutrition encourages diversification of agricultural production and diets. Adopting a nutrition perspective engages policymakers to improve women’s participation, which is a curial driver to better nutrition.

A paradigm shift for agricultural development is certainly needed, whereby agricultural growth leads not only to increased production and reduced poverty, but also to improved nutritional status. Historically, the focus of agricultural development has been on increasing production and little attention was paid to improving the nexus between agriculture and nutrition.

Agriculture is one of the sectors best suited in addressing the crucial underlying determinants of malnutrition and can positively affect food production, income generation and consumption of nutritious foods needed for healthy lives.

In a nutshell,

  • Agriculture as a source of food is the most direct route to improving the diet through the increase in production of a variety of foods, including and not limited to fish, dairy, fruits, grains, livestock, vegetables and root crops. This availability and access to diverse diets will lead to greater intake and improved nutrition at both individual and household levels.
  • Agriculture as a source of income can be used to purchase higher quality, nutrition dense food that is consumed by individual household members.

The pathways through which agriculture and nutrition are linked are ever changing through technology use, agricultural policies, and food consumption patterns. These changing food and nutritional demands are exerting new effects on agricultural production, which remains an important factor contributing to nutritional outcomes.

So, the question therefore, is not whether there should be closer inter-linkages between agriculture and nutrition, but rather how to best achieve these synergies moving into the future. A common goal is needed to guide both agriculture and nutrition in national policymaking and developmental goals for the benefit of those most affected.

The food we produce, how it is produced, how we ensure its reaches the people who need it and at prices that are affordable. All of this must be apart of any equation to scaling up nutrition”

The Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum is being organised by CTA and partners in St Michael, Barbados from 02-06 November 2015. As part of the forum, a workshop on “The agriculture Nutrition Nexus and the way forward” will be held on 02 November 2015. Follow this workshop with Hashtags #CPAF15 #WS3! See the full programme of the Forum.

Photo Credit: LukeSmith T.V

Blogpost by Luke Smith, Social Reporter for the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum 2015. 

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.