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Making agricultural policies deliver better nutrition

Summary of report1

Location: Burkina Faso, Kenya, Peru

What we know: There is increasing international interest in linking agriculture with nutrition. At national level, countries are aligning agricultural policies with nutrition. Traditionally, the agriculture sector is evaluated on the basis of its contribution to income generation and economic growth; accountability for nutrition is weak.

What this article adds: In Burkina Faso, Kenya and Peru, there are constraints to putting into practice the commitments made at policy level on nutrition-sensitive agriculture. In agricultural programmes, nutrition is not prioritised, is poorly understood, is not integrated into monitoring systems, is poorly coordinated and lacks funding. There are examples of good practice to help overcome these constraints such as basic and on-the-job training initiatives, agricultural information systems that integrate nutrition indicators and screening, and the potential for nutrition results-based budgeting across sectors.

A recent report by Action Contre la Faim (ACF) focuses on the challenges of making food systems deliver better nutrition outcomes. It aims to assess to what extent the global agenda on nutrition and agriculture is actually translating into action at country level, based on three country case studies conducted in Burkina Faso, Kenya and Peru that answer the following questions:

Linking agriculture with nutrition and improving the nutritional impact of agriculture programmes and interventions is the topic of a growing international agenda. However, agricultural development does not automatically result in improved nutrition at the household or community level. In fact, while agriculture provides food and income it also requires investments, physical workload, time, etc., which compete with other uses that might also impact (positively or negatively) on nutrition.

There are seven main pathways between agriculture and nutrition, which show that agriculture can have both positive impacts and potential negative impacts on nutrition, particularly with respect to women’s use of time and control of income (see Table 1). Agricultural policies should maximise positive impacts while mitigating negative impacts with appropriate measures.

Table 1: Outline of impact areas of agricultural development on nutrition

From the Agriculture side

To the Nutrition Side

Household production

Food consumption


Food purchase


Health care purchase

Food prices

Food purchase

Women’s use of time

Care capacity

Women’s workload

Maternal energy use

Women’s control of income

Resource allocation


Burkina Faso, Kenya and Peru have recently committed to improving the alignment of their agricultural policies on nutrition outcomes. There is a double challenge to be taken up at country level: integrating agriculture as a key sector in national, multi-sectoral, undernutrition reduction strategies while also mainstreaming nutritional concerns, objectives and actions into sectoral agricultural policies, to increase their sensitivity to nutrition. In the three studies, it was found that there is actually a lag between what is increasingly being promoted at the international level and the responses of actors in the field. Even in countries that have ambitious multi-sectoral strategies against undernutrition, the agriculture sector has not necessarily dedicated a high priority to nutrition. In particular, the research found that the main constraints to unleashing the potential of agriculture for nutrition are:

The authors of the report assert that it is possible to mitigate these obstacles. The experiences from Burkina Faso, Kenya and Peru provide interesting illustrations of good practices that are able to fill these constraints. The identified good practices are:

The study authors looked at the role of a limited number of organisations and initiatives in relation to nutrition sensitive programming, including the European Commission, USAID, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank and the G8 supported New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Most are members of the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement and have recently committed to improving their work on nutrition-sensitive agriculture at the G8 2013 Nutrition for Growth event. However, despite undeniable progress and growing commitments, it appears that actors have not yet given nutrition-sensitive agriculture the level of priority it requires. The recently established ‘Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition’ could be a vehicle for this, if it associates enough countries and civil society organisations with its work. Nutrition should also be made a high priority in international agriculture fora, particularly the CFS (Committee on World Food Security), as the most inclusive international policy forum focusing on agriculture, food security and hunger reduction.


The main finding of the report is that despite a rapidly growing agenda at the international level, including increased commitments from international institutions and donors, nutrition-sensitive agriculture is long overdue and toils to materialise at the level where it matters most. The constraints identified at country-level need to be addressed jointly, to transform the vicious circle of low consideration and underinvestment into a virtuous circle. To make agriculture more sensitive to nutrition at country level, the right set of incentives should be developed and embedded at different levels, from the highest policy framework to the day-to-day activities of extension workers in the field. These incentives should compensate for the lack of common language between agriculture and nutrition, the low level of knowledge on nutrition from the agriculture side and the weak accountability of the agriculture sector vis-à-vis nutrition. This last point is particularly important: the agriculture sector has for too long been evaluated on the basis of its contribution to income generation and economic growth, not on the basis of its contribution to better nutrition.


At the field level, the pathways between agriculture and nutrition are not that well-known. The role agriculture can play in nutrition should be made more explicit. The agriculture sector and the nutrition community should work together to identify what contributions the agriculture sector could bring to the fight against undernutrition in the country, depending on the context-specific determinants of undernutrition and characteristics of the agriculture and food systems. In Kenya, the Home Economics section of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is an important actor which implements the nutrition mandate of the Ministry and provides support to nutrition-sensitive programmes. In fact, home economics officers are key nutrition information channels to change behaviour in the long term both at the national and at the local level.

Agriculture information systems rarely include nutritional and food consumption related indicators (such as the Household Dietary Diversity Score) into their methodologies and surveys. Better information and monitoring systems are needed linking agriculture and nutrition data. Such systems will support building and improving cross-sectoral analysis and dialogue around nutrition. This should include plans to monitor and mitigate the potentially negative consequences on nutrition that may arise from large scale, intensive agricultural investments. In Burkina Faso, the Permanent Agriculture Survey, implemented on a quarterly basis by the Ministry of Agriculture, has been collecting Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) measurements of a sample of children under five years since 2004. This was initially done following a recommendation from regional institutions, to understand better the Sahel ‘cereal balance failure’ showing that agricultural availability does not automatically result in an adequate nutrition situation.

Multi-sectoral coordination mechanisms around nutrition, when they exist, are often primarily related to the health sector, especially at the national level. There is thus an institutional challenge to increasing the participation of the agriculture sector in coordination bodies, to facilitate cross-sectoral dialogue around nutrition. In Peru, the MCLCP3 is a consultative body facilitating consultation and communication in the fight against poverty. Created in 2001, it is an example of where State institutions and civil society collaborate to adopt agreements and coordinate activities to combat poverty in each region, department, province and district. Its mandate integrates nutritional issues for each sector to contribute to common goals. Its main functions are to monitor the implementation of the different government programmes but also to carry out joint advocacy messages.

There is a lack of both basic and on-the-job training on nutrition available for agriculturalists and extension service staff. There is a need for training on both general nutrition knowledge and specifically on the links between agriculture and nutrition. The training efforts should focus in particular on extension agents, whose role makes it possible to spread messages on nutrition to farmers and communities, but should also include civil servants from Ministries of Agriculture at central level. Burkina Faso is currently reforming the National Agriculture School curricula to include nutrition courses in the basic training of agriculture students. This reform has been identified as an important step to change the mind-set of agriculture civil servants vis-à-vis nutrition.

More funding is needed for agricultural programmes and interventions that will in particular take on board the following issues;

In Peru, RBB (results-based budgeting) is a public management system that ties the attribution of resources to measurable results. This mechanism is implemented through budgetary programmes under the Ministry of Finance, and reflects priority areas of public investments by local governments. The possibility of funding food security and agriculture programmes which fully integrate nutrition and incentivise cross-sectoral collaboration through this RBB tool is currently being discussed at the government level and seems promising.

Show footnotes

1ACF(2013). Sowing the seeds of good nutrition. Making agricultural policies deliver better nutrition. Report can be downloaded at (English version) or (French version). Contact is ACF Advocacy Department – ACF France. Elise Rodriguez.

2Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme,

3Mesa de Concertación para la Lucha contra la Pobreza (Peruvian body facilitating consultation and communication in the fight against poverty)

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Summary of report (). Making agricultural policies deliver better nutrition. Field Exchange 47, April 2014. p11.



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