Most people would say that agriculture is for growing food, and on one level, they are right. Agricultural performance, after all, is measured in terms of production and productivity. The point of agriculture doesn’t stop there, however. At a deeper level, the purpose of agriculture is not just to grow crops and livestock, but to grow healthy, well-nourished people. Farmers produce a wide range of goods, including cotton, coffee, and energy crops, but one of their ultimate tasks is to produce food of sufficient quantity (that is, enough calories) and quality (with the vitamins and minerals needed by the human body) to feed all of the planet’s people so that they can lead healthy, productive lives. Agriculture thus effectively includes goals related to human health and nutrition.
But could agriculture do more to meet these goals? Recently the international development community has turned its attention to the potential for the agriculture, nutrition, and health sectors to work together to enhance human well-being. In some ways, of course, agriculture, health, and nutrition are already deeply entwined. Agriculture is the only realistic way for most people to get the nutrition they need. And in many poor countries agriculture is highly labor intensive, and productive agriculture requires the labor of healthy, well-nourished people. In other ways, agriculture, health, and nutrition are quite separate. Professionals in these three fields usually work in isolation from one another, with their efforts sometimes dovetailing in ways that are mutually beneficial and sometimes working at cross-purposes. Many people are now asking, How much more could agriculture do to improve human well-being if it explicitly included health and nutrition goals? What kinds of changes would be needed to maximize agriculture’s contribution to human health and nutrition, and how could human health and nutrition contribute to an agricultural system that is productive and sustainable?