© Helvetas

Ways to improve People’s Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecosystems

© Helvetas

Many agricultural interventions show promising ways of enhancing the dietary diversity of rural people in mountainous areas. The international conference on nutrition sensitive agriculture, held in Nepal, provided an opportunity for practitioners, service providers and policy makers around the world to share these experiences.

“Food insecurity and malnutrition directly affect the poor and marginalized communities - women and children being more victimized in underdeveloped countries like Nepal. As agriculture is the major source of food and nutrition security, Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture (NSA) can be a solution for this problem.” This statement from the then Secretary of the Ministry of Agricultural Development of Nepal, Dr. Suroj Pokhrel, was made during the opening of the Second International Conference on Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture in Mountain Areas that Helvetas organized in collaboration with IFOAM Organics International in February 2018 in Kathmandu, Nepal.  

The Global Nutrition Report 2017 states that one in every three people are malnourished in the world, and that 88% of all countries face a serious burden of either two or three forms of malnutrition. The report also suggests that sustainable food production is one of the core ways of contributing to better nutrition. Diversified smallholder farms can deliver diverse and nutritious foods, and make them available, accessible and affordable to everybody. However, it is important that people recognize the nutritional value of food for their overall health, well-being and productivity

In this context, the conference was organized to bring together various actors involved in nutrition sensitive agriculture around the world to share and discuss their knowledge and experiences. It aimed to create an inspiring environment – improving capacity and motivation to implement nutrition sensitive agriculture. The conference is part of the Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecosystems (NMA) project under the Global Programme Food Security of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). This project aims to replicate and scale-up sustainable, nutrition-sensitive agriculture practices by empowering Rural Service Providers (RSPs) to implement nutrition sensitive agriculture initiatives, and by advocating for conducive policies at national and global level. Preliminary results in Ethiopia, Nepal, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Peru indicate that diversifying farms in an ecological way helps to increase farm incomes, improve family health, protect natural resources and increase resilience to market fluctuations and climate change. Producing and selling a variety of nutritious products not only improves the nutritional situation of local communities, but also provides business opportunities for farmers, agribusinesses, processors, traders, retailers and other stakeholders. Successful experiences will be consolidated and replicated in three additional countries (India, Tajikistan and Ecuador) in Phase II of the project, which started in June 2018.

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Many religious and cultural practices associated with different dietary practices are based on local wisdom about the health-giving properties of certain foods. However, dietary patterns are changing quite rapidly in Nepal and many other parts of the world, with processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat being increasingly available and consumed. Locally grown foods generally have a much higher nutritive value, and communities need to be informed of this fact. Interdisciplinary thinking and complimentary actions are needed from related sectors such as health, education, agriculture to improve nutritional awareness and practices. Raising consumer awareness on the links between nutrition, health and sustainability and motivating consumers towards more sustainable and healthy food choices are therefore key for the success of all initiatives targeting the promotion of sustainable diets.

Many initiatives have been undertaken to carry messages about nutrition to grassroots level, and to channel the resulting learning into policy advocacy at national and global level. One of them is the Mountain Agro-ecosystems Action Network of Rural Service Providers (RSPs). During the conference, RSPs presented a variety of successful examples, including student-targeted nutritional education, home gardens, solar dryers, organic farming, wild edible plants, and the management of local agricultural biodiversity. Inclusive businesses that link smallholders to markets play a particularly important role. These successful stories have been harvested at grassroots level and linked into policy advocacy at national and global level.

The conference also had a public character, with a space for exhibitions and poster presentations by farmers, entrepreneurs, university students and rural service providers. The exhibition featured booths displaying local nutritious and organic agricultural products, publications and a nutrition corner from NMA countries. This space gave an opportunity for informal interactions about nutrition sensitive agriculture, fostering cooperation and networking among the participants.

In the final message of the conference, the Country Director of Helvetas Nepal, Dr. Bharat Kumar Pokharel, underscored the need to view nutrition from an interdisciplinary perspective, with the different actors involved moving from an isolated to a collective effort.  Many participants from the health sector stated that the conference had opened their eyes to the contribution of agriculture to human nutrition, rather than only seeing it from a health perspective. Likewise, for participants from the agricultural sector the conference reminded them that agriculture is not only about productivity and profitability, but mainly about providing nutritious food to people.

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© Helvetas / Narendra Shrestha

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