August 13, 2014 | By Roger Thurow

Nutritious Crops for Healthier Mothers & Children - Part III

Agriculture and nutrition would seem to be a natural pairing. But for so long, there was a wide gap between the two. In development jargon, they were isolated in separate “silos.”

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.

Archive




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Starved Bodies, Hungry Minds

The women farmers at the foot of the Lugulu Hills paused from the preparation of their fields for the planting season and looked forward to the harvest.

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Extending the Reach

I returned from a day in the field with Kenyan smallholder farmers last week to find these words from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as the Newsbrief’s Quote of the Week:

“As I travel around the world talking about American agriculture, the one thing that has struck me is how jealous the rest of the world is about extension, how they would love to have the capacity that we have in this country and often, unfortunately, take for granted, of the ability to reach out and gain very useful information and insights to improve productivity.”

Exactly, I thought.

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Bringing Home the Seeds

It’s been Christmas in February this week for thousands of smallholder farmers in western Kenya.  Seeds and fertilizer for the imminent planting season arrived.

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Reality Check

As the budget battles intensify, a reality check is in order: Slashing foreign aid targeted for boosting development in poor countries will hardly make a dent in the deficit.  The savings will be negligible, but the consequences would be huge.


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Writing on the Wall

The writing on the wall, foretelling the turmoil that has roiled North Africa and the Middle East in recent weeks, appeared during the food crisis of 2008.  It was then that staple food shortages and soaring prices sent protesters into the streets in dozens of countries in the developing world.

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We Do Big Things

For those of us who were listening to the President’s State of the Union address this week, listening for a reference to the fight against hunger through agriculture development, we heard this near the end of the speech:

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African Paradox

Once again, the great paradox of Africa emerges: hunger in one part of a country, food surplus in another.

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The Task Ahead for the 112th Congress

As 2011 dawns, the United States government is poised to lead the greatest assault on global hunger through agriculture development since the Green Revolution half a century ago.  

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Bowling against Hunger

The college football bowl season, which begins this weekend, celebrates food and eating almost as much as it celebrates gridiron excellence.  Just consider how many of this season’s bowls – Bowls!  The very word comes straight from the kitchen — are sponsored by food companies or named after food:


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Food Is the Foundation

This week in Cancun, international negotiators have been consumed with climate change.  And on Dec. 1, all around the world, red ribbons were out in force for World AIDS Day.

Multimedia

Videos


 


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.

» Learn more.
» Order your copy of the book.

Books

The First 1,000 Days

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.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

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?

Learn more »

EnoughEnough

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.

Learn more »