Coffee, Green Beans, and Handicrafts: How Nutrition-Sensitive Value Chains Can Improve Health in Guatemala
By Alyssa Klein, Food Security and Nutrition Specialist, and Christa Elise Reynolds, Knowledge Management Officer, on SPRING at JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. SPRING is funded by USAID and helps to strengthen country efforts to scale up high-impact nutrition practices and policies.
How can bulk drying coffee beans relate to better nutrition in Guatemala’s Western Highlands? The Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), conducted qualitative research to learn how agricultural market development activities could increase the nutrition-sensitivity of specific commodity value chains. Rather than focusing on a single target group or sector, agricultural market development activities often work across multiple actors within the system. Value chains, which follow the production of a specific commodity within this larger system, encompass a range of actors and activities where targeted interventions could contribute to improved nutrition. We hypothesized that by supporting multi-sectoral efforts to increase commodity value chains’ nutrition sensitivity, donors and programs could also increase the likelihood of improved nutrition at household and individual levels. We further hypothesized that this would be possible even when the targeted value chains were not related to nutritious food. For a country like Guatemala, where half of the population is chronically malnourished—especially in the rural highlands —these efforts are critical.
Building on Existing Agricultural Investments
The Guatemala Mission’s Feed the Future Multi-Year strategy assumes that a value chain approach holds the greatest potential for moving people out of poverty and improving their incomes and access to food. When complemented by better access to health services, potable water, and comprehensive hygiene and nutrition education, value chain activities are expected to result in improved nutrition for the targeted population. Earlier this year, SPRING worked with the USAID Guatemala Mission to better understand how to improve nutritional outcomes through existing agricultural investments. Collaborating with two USAID-funded export-oriented value chain activities in Guatemala, the Asociación Guatemalteca de Exportadores [AGEXPORT] and the Asociación Nacional del Café [ANACAFE]), we conducted a qualitative review of three rural commodity value chains: coffee, green beans, and handicrafts. We wanted to understand how and where linkages to nutrition may be leveraged within agricultural value chain programming, especially when the commodity value chains being strengthened are not clearly related to nutrition.
We defined the key stages of an agricultural commodity value chain as the following: inputs, production, processing/storage, marketing/ retailing, consumption, and waste. After conducting our research, we found non-invasive, low- to no-cost changes could be made at each stage of the value chain to improve the projects’ nutrition-sensitivity.
For example, during production, improving water and soil management can increase income while decreasing labor demands by lessening erosion and maintaining nutrients in soil and crops. During processing/storage, bulk drying and pulping coffee beans during the wet season can decrease waste fermentation and reduce the amount of wastewater runoff into local water sources. The final stage, waste, can be improved by safely disposing of pesticide containers, instead of using them to store drinking water or food. These nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions have the potential to contribute toward improved human health and nutrition, in addition to improving agricultural outcomes.
Using good agricultural practices can increase production and household incomes, and can potentially improve nutrition, when approaches are put into place to also help families make better consumption and health choices. When mothers do not have to spend as much time working on their farms, they can spend more time caring for their children and breastfeeding infants. Although these connections are not always clear, funding additional multi-sectoral work to improve value chains’ nutrition sensitivity should help increase awareness of how value chains and nutrition can be linked.
Facilitating discussions among farmers, their local communities, and households can help farmers understand the connections between health and their labor. On a larger scale, increasing awareness among the multitude of actors involved with value chains—from input suppliers to processors and buyers— could create an atmosphere in which improved nutrition is one of the outcomes of commodity value chains.
To learn more about our formative research surrounding making commodity value chains more nutrition-sensitive, read our technical brief, look over our poster, and visit the Guatemala section of SPRING’s website. Contact Alyssa_Klein@jsi.com with questions or for more information.