New Book Examines Food Systems, Health, and Nutrition in Africa

February 9, 2011

Despite extensive research focusing separately on agriculture, health, and nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa, the connections between these topics are seldom addressed. The African Food System and Its Interaction with Human Health and Nutrition, a book edited by Cornell University professor and former IFPRI Director General Per Pinstrup-Andersen, explores the interactions between them and proposes an interdisciplinary methodology to promote positive change in these sectors.

The book, to which several current and former IFPRI researchers contributed, concludes that a variety of health and nutrition issues interact with agriculture in two-way causal chains, the negative effects of which are coined “vicious circles.” Interdisciplinary research and interventions that simultaneously target multiple policy sectors can be an effective method for breaking these cycles.

In one chapter, IFPRI senior research fellow Stuart Gillespie explains that the interaction between AIDS and agriculture is an example of the “vicious circle” pattern. Food insecurity and malnutrition affect both immune function and socioeconomic stability, placing individuals at a greater risk of contracting HIV. In turn, individuals with AIDS face greater challenges in meeting basic nutritional needs. Breaking this pattern will require new cross-sectoral interventions, such as emphasizing nutrition in existing HIV prevention and care programs, and reforming agriculture programs to make the food security of the AIDS-affected populations of sub-Saharan Africa a higher priority.

In another chapter, Gillespie, Marie Ruel, director of IFPRI’s Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division , and former Director General Joachim von Braun, now at the University of Bonn, discuss the importance of expanding cross-sectoral approaches similar to these toward the broader range of issues contained in the UN Millennium Development Goals. The potential for policymakers to achieve the MDGs, they say, is limited by a lack of coordination between health and agricultural officials and organizations in sub-Saharan Africa.

Following the book’s release, Pinstrup-Andersen is scheduled to share further findings on the connections between agriculture, health, and nutrition at the IFPRI-hosted 2020 Conference in New Delhi, February 10-12.