How Can Agricultural Information Systems Be Nutrition-Sensitive?
by Abhi Goyal, Knowledge Management Coordinator (SPRING/ JSI), and Jennifer Pietropaoli, Knowledge Management Officer (SPRING/ Manoff Group)
Agriculture development activities are increasingly rising to the challenge of improving nutrition. In the past, agriculture defaulted to a focus on producing more food or growing nutritious crops, but the evidence increasingly suggests agriculture programs must also be nutrition-sensitive, considering how they support access to food, health and care. Because agriculture information systems are already targeting producers, they are a natural opportunity for also promoting nutrition-sensitive behaviors. SPRING, USAID’s multi-sectoral nutrition project, examined existing communication platforms in Northern Ghana to better understand how nutrition-sensitive messaging can be integrated into agricultural information systems.
We found that although a range of information systems aim to support agricultural productivity and income generation, many do not reach their targeted population(s), and, despite the connections between food, health and productivity, most do not make any linkages between agriculture and nutrition. Few efforts have been made to strengthen the inclusion of nutrition-sensitive messages within these agricultural information systems; those efforts that exist are poorly coordinated. Through our review, however, SPRING found that agriculture information systems in Northern Ghana offer several opportunities to improve their impact on nutrition, many of which may apply to other contexts.
Be explicit about linkages between good agriculture practices and nutrition outcomes. Inherently nutrition-sensitive practices are already being shared, but they have the potential to better contribute to nutrition when the connections are made clear.
Increase and improve information-sharing relating to women’s roles. Agriculture information systems in Northern Ghana do include practices that are important for women, but women remain less likely to receive information through agriculture information systems and the promoted behaviors are not always framed to recognize the importance for nutrition.
Leverage strong existing platforms to include relevant nutrition-sensitive information. Instead of replacing existing platforms or duplicating efforts, we can reinforce them by integrating nutrition-sensitivity into their existing messaging. A number of financial service providers and private sector actors are involved in agricultural information systems in Ghana and these actors present a natural entry point for strengthening information on the use of agricultural income for nutrition.
Grow information and communications technology platforms to reinforce information provided by other mechanisms. In Northern Ghana, programs are already using mobile phones, radios, videos and tablets to disseminate information, but have not incorporated much in the way of nutrition-sensitive information. These information communication technology platforms represent a significant opportunity to promote creative nutrition-sensitive agriculture solutions, spread information quickly, and get rapid feedback on how the content is received.
Develop an oversight committee. An oversight committee coordinates information systems and the information that is fed into them to incorporate the influence of the many diverse actors using agriculture information systems. Doing so can help ensure that messages are consistent and that channels are not lost if donor-funded information systems close. Farmers can also benefit from getting their information from one source — ensuring that any given source is well-informed, provides consistent information and is convenient to the farmer requires integration under such a committee, rather than fragmented as current efforts are.
Our review in Ghana supports the idea that existing agriculture information systems have great potential to be enhanced with nutrition-sensitive information to more effectively contribute to nutrition outcomes. As local agriculture partners continue to look for opportunities to drive nutrition outcomes in Ghana and elsewhere, there very well could be low-hanging fruit found in existing information platforms.
Visit the SPRING website to read the full report about oppportunities for nutrition-sensitive messaging in agriculture information systems in Northern Ghana: https://www.spring-nutrition.org/publications/reports/opportunities-integrating-nutrition-agricultural-information-systems-northern.