© Helvetas/Fatoumata Diabate

Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture and Food Systems

© Helvetas/Fatoumata Diabate

The new strategy of the working area Sustainable Inclusive Economies integrates nutrition sensitive agriculture and food systems as new key elements to address topics of food production, food value chains, food markets, food consumption and food security more comprehensively in Helvetas’s work. It will be finalized in the coming months. Here is a sneak preview on the new thematic focus

Thinking through food systems

The challenge of providing affordable food to a growing population without undermining the production base has gained again stronger attention in the last years. With the complexity of globalized food markets, an emphasis on entire food systems is needed. Food systems include all processes, actors and context factors from production to consumption that contribute to providing people with sufficient and balanced food. 70% of the poor still live in rural areas and depend on agriculture as main income source, despite a general trend of mainly young people migrating to urban settings. Although the bulk of the world’s food is produced by smallholder farmers, food insecurity is most widespread in rural areas and is further accentuated by the global threat of climate change. There is a growing tension field between local food security and sovereignty and the production of commodities for a growing urban population or export markets. The trend towards more globalized and integrated food chains, contract farming and increasing quality requirements as well as imports of highly competitive products contribute to this tension field. At the same time, these developments also open up new opportunities for smallholders.

Agriculture and food systems are key driving factors for economic development in an increasingly urbanized world. Never in human history have so many people been so depended on food supplies from rural areas. And never in human history have agriculture and food systems absorbed so much energy to produce and supply food to so many consumers living in urban settings. As a consequence, negative environmental impacts (soil, air and water pollution, soil fertility and biodiversity degradation, greenhouse gas emissions) and health impacts (malnutrition, over-nutrition, agro-chemicals) are on the rise. At the same time sustainable agriculture can significantly reduce current problem sources that contribute to global challenges.

Relevance of nutrition

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) put nutrition at the heart of the Global Development agenda. Eight out of seventeen SDG’s have nutrition as a vital precondition to achieve the goal and nine SDG’s support nutrition on their way to achievement. Accordingly, Helvetas will attach higher importance to nutrition in its future work.

We understand nutrition as an integral part of food security. Quantitative aspects of food security dominated our past and the global development agenda. Aspects of nutrition and “hidden hunger” were often neglected or treated as side products of projects. The simplified deduction of “higher production + better income = better nutrition” is recognized as being no longer valid. We thus use Food and Nutrition Security as the appropriate terminology that defines the range of Helvetas’ actions. Where relevant, explicit programming and monitoring of nutrition outcomes will be fostered by using food and nutrition sensitive indicators.

The complex interdependence between agriculture, food systems and societies in motion ask for a systemic approach in identifying meaningful entry points and interventions in a given context and sector to obtain sustainable outcomes and impacts. Helvetas applies the following principles of the Market Systems Approach to reach disadvantaged women and men at scale.

Main principles applied in our work  

  1. Sustainable agriculture: Our interventions are climate sensitive, foster ecological, diversified and locally adapted farming and livestock systems that use local natural resources sustainably and enhance smallholders’ resilience to climate and economic risks.
  2. Productivity & profitability in agriculture: Farming is a business and livelihood strategy – no matter how small the farm is. Higher efficiency, locally adapted mechanization and modernization and the optimized use of resources and production factors are key for economic sustainability. We support sustainable intensification and innovation among smallholder farmers, their support organizations and service providers.
  3. Local food market actors: Local or national food processors, traders, retailers and caterers are important drivers for locally produced agricultural products. Identifying and supporting committed and likeminded entrepreneurs and linking them to farming communities stimulates growth of local food based economies and makes nutritious food available at the local level.
  4. International food market opportunities: We engage and cooperate with likeminded companies on investing, improving and implementing sustainable sourcing policies and best practices as an effective means of leveraging positive incentives in food markets such as water efficiency or organic farming.
  5. Nutrition sensitive programming: Helvetas aims at integrating components of nutrition systematically in different thematic fields, most importantly in agriculture (nutrition sensitive agriculture), in water related projects (e.g. linking nutrition and WASH) and in market system development (e.g. nutrition sensitive selection of value chains or food sectors).
  6. Postharvest management: We will continue to engage in initiatives to reduce losses and waste in food value chains. It is an economic and ecological way of enhancing food availability and food quality, creating income opportunities for farmers and other market actors, and providing consumers with more nutritious and safe food. 

Helvetas strengthens its advocacy efforts on food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture with a special focus on policy frameworks for food markets, nutrition (e.g. in relation to health) and in the nexus of agricultural and environmental policies (e.g. shift from productivity to enhanced postharvest management). All advocacy work of Helvetas is aiming at engaging in policy dialogues with governments at local national and international levels. As in all Helvetas work, gender and social equity is an integral part of our projects fostering sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Further information

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