New Delhi – More than 900 participants are gathering today at an international conference from February 10–12 to examine ways that agriculture can enhance the health and nutritional status of poor people in developing countries.
“Agriculture is much more than just producing food and other products. It is linked to people’s well-being in many ways, and it has the potential to do much more to improve their nutrition and reduce their health risks. But to accomplish this, we need to re-imagine agriculture,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
To work toward this goal, IFPRI organized the conference, “Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health.” The event will bring experts together from all three sectors to take stock of current knowledge, share information and best practices, and build consensus on the actions most needed to move forward.
Agricultural scientists have traditionally focused on developing more productive crops and livestock and on reducing their susceptibility to disease. But the conference organizers contend that by incorporating nutrition as a goal, researchers and breeders could provide farmers with a wide range of healthier products. For example, breeding crops with higher levels of micronutrients like vitamin A and iron can potentially reduce death and disease, especially among women and children.
“Increasing crop productivity overall is not enough. A new paradigm for agricultural development is needed, so that agricultural growth leads also to improved nutrition and health,” said Fan.
Research suggests that agricultural growth, if done right, is the engine to reduce poverty in developing countries. But according to “The Nexus between Agriculture and Nutrition,” a paper released at the conference, individual subsectors within agriculture, such as staple crops or livestock, have different effects on development outcomes, including on nutrition and health, and policymakers need to pay attention to these differences.
Improvements in other factors such as land distribution, women’s status, rural infrastructure, and health status, can have a positive effect on nutrition, the paper contends. Complementary investments in rural roads, nutrition programs, and other targeted interventions can make a huge impact.
Conference organizers also maintain that the development community needs to be conscious of the entire value chain, including production, storage, transportation, marketing, and consumption, as all of these have implications for health and nutrition.After harvest, there are opportunities for improving health and nutrition, from better storage and transport to stronger nutritional marketing from retailers.
In developing countries, consumption of unsafe food and water is one of the major causes of preventable illness and death. Farmers are exposed to pesticides and contaminated water. Toxins, such as cyanide and aflatoxins contaminate food. Avian flu and other diseases can spread from livestock to humans. The conference will seek to identify strategies to reduce health risks throughout the value-chain.
“Agriculture, nutrition, and health programs should be designed so that they reinforce each other, to unleash this untapped potential. This can only happen if practitioners, researchers, and policymakers from all three sectors join forces to coordinate their efforts and find better solutions,” said Rajul Pandya-Lorch, head of IFPRI’s 2020 Vision Initiative and lead organizer of the conference.
Speakers at the event will include Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; M. S. Swaminathan, Chairman, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation; John Kufuor, Former President, Republic of Ghana; David Nabarro, U.N. Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition, and many other high-level experts and officials.
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