The main task of agriculture, as viewed by the ag industry and farmers, was to grow ever more food. Increase yields, boost harvests, churn out calories. Agriculture policy resided in agriculture ministries.
Nutrition was widely considered to be a health issue. Diets, vitamins, nutritional supplements. Nutrition policy resided in health ministries. Efforts to bridge the gap, to focus on the nutritional content of crops, were largely kept on the fringe by fears that they would interfere with yields.
Over the past several years, though, agriculture and nutrition have become allies in the push to reduce malnutrition and childhood stunting. Efforts to biofortify certain staple crops—to raise their inherent vitamin and mineral levels through conventional breeding—are being called “nutrition-sensitive” or “nutrition-smart” agriculture. This emphasis on improved health of food consumers is gaining the support of doctors, scientists, economists, and development workers, as well as nutritionists and the agriculture industry.
As Howarth Bouis, a biofortification pioneer, points out, nutrition-smart food crops are being evaluated or have been released in more than 30 countries. His own program, HarvestPlus, has released these crops in seven countries.
He recently wrote: “These crops are released as public goods so they are accessible to poor farmers. Furthermore, we are multiplying and delivering these crops to farmers, working with both private and public sector partners to educate farmers and consumers, and to build markets for these foods. Since orange sweet potato was first released about seven years ago, more than 1.5 million farming families have adopted this and other nutrition-smart crops.”
The goal is to scale-up these efforts to substantially impact public health; HarvestPlus and its partners are aiming to reach more than 100 million people by 2018. In the third part of my conversation with Bouis and Anna-Marie Ball, HarvestPlus Manager of Partnerships and Strategic Alliances for Africa, the focus is on future prospects for moving the needle on malnutrition through agriculture.
Watch Part I and Part II.
Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days
In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.
Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.
The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.
In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?
Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.