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Food nutrition and security

Posted: Apr 27, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

In this thought-provoking and in-depth 10th Annual Lecture of the College of Food Sciences, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Mr. Larry Umunna Country Manager of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition(G.A.I.N ) canvasses the need to bridge the gap between food and nutrition security. Since access to nutritious food has a positive correlation with labour productivity and economic wellbeing of its citizenry, government should pay greater attention to it.

By Mr. Larry Umunna




The relationship between the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and Bells University has been a very interesting and productive one. In 2012, Bells University conducted the first ever Compliance Study in Nigeria to gauge the level of compliance with the national food fortification regulations. That Study (funded by GAIN and published in the Nigerian Food Journal: The Official Journal of the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology, and now cited in many internationals reviews on Food Fortification) reaffirmed the determination of the leadership of Bells University in contributing towards advancing the knowledge base of food and nutrition security programs in Nigeria.

Agriculture, Food and Nutrition: Connecting the dots.

In recent years, the inherent relationship between our food and human nutrition has gained greater attention. Today, we are beginning to witness the divide between agriculture and nutrition being bridged. However, one can make bold to state (and fairly so) that our global food system remains broken.

Despite all the time, money and effort spent on trying to make it work, the food system still falls short on delivering everyone an optimal diet. The following dismal global statistics provide compelling reasons for this bold statement:

Today 805 million people are hungry and 2 billion are malnourished – 70% of these live in rural areas.

At the same time 1.4 billion are overweight and obese, fuelled by western style diets that are damaging the planet and our health.

Climate change is increasing food insecurity – particularly for rural populations who are most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate.

And we throw away a staggering 1.4 billion tons of food each year (one third of the food produced). Nearly half of these losses occur after the food has been harvested, resulting in lower incomes for farmers and higher prices for consumers.

The picture in Nigeria in equally unflattering. Despite a slight reduction in the level of stunted growth amongst children under the age of five (from 41% in 2008 to 37% in 20013), 11 million children under the age of five in Nigeria continue to suffer stunted growth, 1 out of every 5 children is severely malnourished and many will not survive to see their second birthday.

With poor nutrition being the underlying cause of 45% of all child deaths and costing 2-3% of GDP, we cannot afford to focus on improving nutrition-sensitive sectors – notably agriculture, education and social protection – that could make a huge difference to scaling up improvements in nutrition.

Agriculture has, unfortunately, historically focused on productivity and volume rather than food quality and diversity. IFPRI in 2011 stated that “If the agriculture sector is to play a more important role in improving nutrition, there needs to be a greater focus on what happens between production and consumption.” The agriculture value chain provides a framework for the development of successful nutrition-sensitive agricultural programs. The popular terminology: “from farm to fork” clearly captures the interface between agriculture, food and nutrition.

Lack of food security is one of the root causes of malnutrition; therefore, increased food production, which influences food availability, is necessary if malnutrition is to be reduced to the barest minimum. Since food production is a focus of the agricultural sector, effective linkages between the agriculture and nutrition sectors are thus indispensable if nutrition is to be improved. Nevertheless, just as food security is not the only underlying cause of malnutrition, food production is not the only factor necessary for achieving food security. In the first place, food availability is determined not only by production, but more importantly by trade. Secondly, food security is possible solely when food availability is backed by food access, utilization, and stability.

Hence, the role of agriculture in achieving food security and improved nutrition needs to go beyond food production. Agriculture can influence trade and tariffs; it can also influence food access through its effect on agriculture-related income, food prices, and markets. When properly harnessed, agricultural practices can further help ensure food stability; and can support food utilization when coupled with nutrition education and behavior change communication. Moreover, agriculture can be used to address underlying causes of malnutrition other than food security when it is coupled with interventions that improve health services and care practice4s, and empower women. Agricultural practices that address nutrition in such multidimensional ways are referred to as nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

Nutrition-sensitive agriculture has been described as agriculture that addresses the underlying causes of malnutrition – food security, health services, and care-giving, by: boosting agricultural production, lowering prices, increasing incomes, increasing dietary diversity and access to quality diets, empowering women, improving the effectiveness and coverage of nutrition-specific interventions, amongst other interventions.6. More broadly, eight principles have been presented as almost always essential for nutrition-sensitive agriculture. These eight principles are:

Incorporate nutritional concerns into the design and implementation of agricultural policies, projects, an investments

Target nutritionally vulnerable groups

Invest in women

Increase year-round access to diverse, nutrient-dense foods

Protect health through water management.



We need to invest significant efforts in building the evidence base on farmer nutrition to better understand what farming families are eating, how adequate that diet is and most importantly where the farmer is sourcing food. We need the evidence. If we don’t build a body of evidence that verifies that agriculture can have, and is having, an impact on human nutrition, the two sectors will continue along their separate ways we also should be developing an understanding of best-practice for shaping. Markets for nutritious food, including an understanding of where the obstacles are along the value chain and where we can either include nutrition or mitigate the loss of nutrients as food moves off the farm. We need leadership from governments the world over. Reforming agriculture is a crucial part of the food system equation. We are starting to see the potential for integrating agriculture and nutrition more closely.

We need to match resources in agriculture and nutrition to the scale of the problem. We need a dialogue among opinion leaders that is focused on how to develop a sustainable food system that delivers healthy, nutritious, affordable food to those that need it most.

We need a new paradigm – a food system that generates demand for nutritious food across the value chain. A system that acts as an incubator for innovative ideas that increase agricultural yields AND nutritional quality of foods, that encourages greater productivity AND recognizes proven interventions that improve the nutritional value of food. We need to support sustainable solutions, and we need to better understand what an “optimal diet” really is:


It is crucial that we bring the agriculture and nutrition sectors closer together. Not only is the agricultural sector crucial to combating malnutrition but it is often rural communities that suffer the worst effects of malnutrition. What is very clear is that there are numerous opportunities along the food value chain where we can make a difference – from fortifying staple foods with essential vitamins and minerals to reducing post-harvest losses through better transportation and cold – storage. Nigeria is definitely moving in the right direction. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.