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The development of a timely and robust tool to analyze relations that link crop and livestock diversity and income to nutrition in poor rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa

Final Report Summary - AGRINUTS (The development of a timely and robust tool to analyze relations that link crop and livestock diversity and income to nutrition in poor rural areas in Sub-Saharan Afri

Project context and objectives

The double burden of under-nutrition and over-nutrition affects more than 2 billion people around the globe. At one extreme, 3.5 million child deaths per year are related to under-nutrition. At the other extreme, increasing rates of obesity in both the developed and developing world require an urgent response. Both dimensions of malnutrition place particular demands on food, public health and agro-ecological systems and require changes in strategy from farmers, health workers and the global food industry.

This Marie Curie international outgoing fellowship focused on: 1) developing methodologies that integrate nutrition outputs in agricultural monitoring systems; 2) identifying nutrition gaps and the potential of agriculture to fill these gaps; 3) assessing and strengthening synergies between agriculture and health systems for improved nutrition security. The research was embedded in two ongoing multisectoral projects in sub-Saharan Africa: the Millennium Villages project (MVP) and the Consortium for Improving Agricultural Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA).

Project results

Key achievements include:

1 Methodologies to integrate nutrition in agricultural monitoring systems

1.1. Assessing nutritional functional diversity of farming systems.

We demonstrated how an ecological concept, the functional diversity (FD) metric, has the potential to summarise nutritional diversity of cropping systems and thereby provide new insights on provisioning ecosystem services across farms and villages in sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas in the past, food-based interventions in developing countries have focused mostly on a single nutrient, our novel approach can help guide agricultural systems to provide diversity of nutrients as well as to enhance the nutritional resilience of the system.

1.2 Developing a global network for monitoring agricultural sustainability

Milestones of this component include a global food systems symposium: global metrics for assessing agriculture, a publication in 'Nature' (Nature Publishing Group) on network and overall strategy supported by a group of 25 prominent agriculture and food system experts, submission of project proposals and coordination of an interuniversity, interdisciplinary working group.

2. Identifying nutrition gaps and the potential of agriculture and food systems to fill these gaps.

Based on the UNICEF framework outlining the multiple determinants of under-nutrition, an analytical model was developed linking interventions and impact pathway indicators in health, agriculture, water and sanitation, education, community and gender to nutritional outcomes. Data from 12 MVP sites at baseline and year three were analysed according to this model. This model allows a holistic nutrition gap analysis as well as evaluation/comparison of effectiveness in improving nutrition across diverse settings in sub-Saharan Africa.

3. Assessing and strengthening synergies between agriculture and health systems to improve nutrition security.

Activities and outputs include methods and tools to enhance program design, implementation and scale-up, as well as rigorous evaluation and documentation of lessons learned. An example of a tool we developed is the waternut toolkit involving community health workers and agricultural extension workers to better simultaneously address water quality, diarrhoea disease, food production and consumption.

Potential impact

Working across centres, universities and continents has enabled the fellow to produce cutting-edge research at the nexus of agriculture, nutrition and health. We have published in a range of journals reaching different audiences, from scientists to practitioners and policymakers.

The research has been integrated with new emerging international efforts to bridge these disciplines and sectors. A millennium development goals (MDG) nutrition advisory group including some of the best nutrition scientists has been established to also influence the international nutrition agenda towards a more successful multi-sectorial approach.

The importance and potential of the agriculture-nutrition-health axis is also emphasised in new scaling-up initiatives of the MVP including the Haiti regeneration initiative, and the scaling up in Nigeria and Timor-Leste. Our agriculture-nutrition research is also contributing to several courses at Columbia (CU) and other universities, including the global food systems course (CU-SIPA), the international nutrition course (CU-Mailman), the global leadership course (University of Leuven, Belgium- Master in Bioscience engineering) and the course on community development (Great Lakes University, Kenya).

Our involvement in various projects of different research groups at the Earth Institute (CU) and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven has allowed to build out the agriculture-nutrition niche as a key research element across both research centres and will be continued.

Contact: Roseline Remans, rremans@ei.columbia.edu.