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Nutrition sensitive value chains

Even within the relatively young topic of agriculture-nutrition linkages, the subject of nutrition sensitive value chains is still a novelty. Because the term nutrition sensitive is so new, many of the actors engaging in activities and research use differing definitions.

There is currently not one generally accepted definition of what nutrition sensitive intervention is. However, Noreen Mucha (Table 5 of “Implementing Nutrition-Sensitive Development: Reaching Consensus”) provides an overview of several definitions at play, including those of the EU, SUN Movement, World Bank and WHO. The common denominator among these definitions are the following:

  • Nutrition sensitive interventions address the underlying determinants of nutrition. According to the World Bank, these underlying determinants include adequate access to food, healthy environments, adequate health services and care practices. In general, sectors are involved where they can play a role in stimulating access to nutritious food.
  • Nutrition sensitive interventions involve multiple sectors. Across definitions, several sectors that play an important role in nutrition sensitive interventions are reappearing. They are summed up by the 1,000 days movement: food security and agriculture, social protection, health, education, water supply and sanitation. Interestingly, only DFID specifically mentions women empowerment.
  • Nutrition sensitive interventions include clear nutrition objectives. In particular objectives that enable communities to achieve food and nutrition security. In several of the definitions of nutrition sensitive development it is stressed that interventions will only contribute to nutrition sensitive development when these objectives are included and supported by national development policies.

Tea farm in Kenya

Nutrition sensitive interventions through value chains

Value chains cover the entire production and consumption cycle of commodities. The functioning of value chains is crucial for the availability and accessibility of food. Because stimulating access to healthy food is central to nutrition sensitive interventions, the functioning of value chains is essential for nutrition sensitive interventions to succeed.

There are two different kinds of nutrition sensitive value chains. First of all, there is the value chain of a nutritious commodity. One value chain that produces, for example, vegetables, fish or dairy products. Relatively nutritious commodities that will benefit the intake of nutrients when improved accessibility of those commodities is (potentially) followed by increased consumption of those same commodities.

A second kind of nutrition sensitive value chain is to start a new value chain of nutritious produce next to another value chain that may not produce nutritious food at all. Imagine a farmer whose main occupation is producing cocoa. He decides to start growing tomatoes as a secondary activity. To engage in a nutritious sensitive value chain, farmers do not necessarily have to dedicate all of their time to producing nutritious food.

The farmer in the example above is likely to produce his tomatoes for consumption within his own household. This way, the nutrition sensitive value chain that he started as a secondary activity next to farming cocoa has a nutrition impact. However, it is also possible that he produces the nutritious commodity for commercial reasons. In that case, there is a case of crop diversification and through diversifying his crop production, the farmer will have created a safety net for maintaining his income in times of failed harvest, for example.

Consumption of nutritious foods within the households that produces those nutritious products is one way in which a nutrition impact is achieved. Another is production for consumption outside of the household or a combination consumption within and outside of the household. In the two latter cases, the consumption will have an effect on the nutrient intake of non-producing consumers.

The essence of a multi-sector approach

Like nutrition sensitive interventions in general, for interventions in value chains to be successful a multi-sector approach is essential. Activities stimulating women empowerment and explaining the importance of healthy food through education have, for example, proven to be of the essence. Women empowerment and education are not a 100% guarantee to increase nutrient intake by all farmer and community households involved, but the chance at an improvement of nutrient intake and dietary variety increases significantly.

Another issue that is crucial for the success of nutrition sensitive interventions in general and nutrition sensitive value chains in particular, is that (national) government policies. In a progress report by the SUN movement (2011/2012) it was argued that government, business and society together need to develop new models that consider what can be done to provide solutions that address under-nutrition. Only government can directly influence relevant areas for legislation. Also, the distribution of wealth – and therefore food – in developing countries can be extremely unequal, and those of who work the land and produce the food may regularly experience hunger and discrimination. That is why it is important to maintain discussions with government and propose policies for food security and food sovereignty that stimulate a beneficial environment in which to implement nutrition sensitive value chains.