Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Innovative and Integrated Approaches To Reducing Malnutrition

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Saturday, 15 February 2014: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM, Acapulco (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

As worldwide hunger and malnutrition concerns in the coming decades drive the global agricultural development agenda and policies, nutrition objectives must be integrated to better ensure healthy outcomes for people in developing countries. Stunting, a severe form of malnutrition characterized by low height-for-age, presents a major hurdle to development efforts. Stunted children have reduced productivity and lifetime earnings, and are faced with increased risk of infectious diseases and greater likelihood of poor school performance. So far, development efforts have focused on increasing agriculture productivity, income, and food supply in order to reduce stunting; these efforts, while effective, only provides about 25 percent of the solution. Areas that have been ignored in development practices and policies offer an opportunity to solve the problem of stunting. This session explores three key interrelated factors that directly or indirectly affect nutritional outcomes based on new emerging scientific evidence: water, sanitation and hygiene; gut microbiome and human health; and mycotoxin/aflatoxin food contamination. New innovation and discoveries in nutrition research could help direct more effective agricultural and nutrition development policies, and programs should consider these factors to better ensure improved nutrition among smallholder farm households and their communities.

To shed light on the recent scientific evidence and advances and how this knowledge-base could be used in development programs and policies; USAID/Bureau of Food Security/Agriculture Research and Policy organized a special symposium with world experts on the issue at the AAAS annual meeting to give us a deep understanding of what we know so far and how it can be applied to strengthen our nutrition programs to achieve better nutritional outcomes. Below is a brief description of the symposium:

  • Ahmed Kablan, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)- Organizer 
  • Jennifer Long and Maura Mack, U.S. Agency for International Development-Co-organizer
  • Rob Bertram, USAID-Moderator
  • Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Cornell University-Discussant


  • Patrick Webb, Tufts University

Innovation Frontiers for Agriculture-Nutrition Linkages:

165 million children are stunted. Even if evidence-based nutrition interventions reached 90% of people, only one third of stunting would be resolved. Two thirds of the solution lies elsewhere. This paper discusses potential for reducing stunting through complementary actions in agriculture and sanitation, focusing on aflatoxins in the food supply, gut biome interactions, and environmental contaminants linked to open defecation.

  • Jeffrey K. Griffiths, Tufts University

Water, Sanitation, and the Prevention of Stunting:

A holistic view of water in the prevention of stunting will be presented. Known and likely causal pathways between WASH activities and improved nutrition will be outlined, evidence assessed, and evidence gaps identified. Innovative WASH methods will be highlighted and case examples provided for a global perspective. Water is critical for hygienic environments and agriculture, influences the development of environmental enteropathy, and facilitates mycotoxin (aflatoxin) contamination of foods.

  • Jeffrey I. Gordon, Washington University

Dining with Trillions of Fascinating Friends: Exploring Our Human Gut Microbiome:

Our genetic landscape is a summation of the genes embedded in our human genome and in the genomes of our microbial symbionts (the microbiome). Similarly, our metabolic features (metabotypes) are an amalgamation of human and microbial contributions. Understanding these interrelationships is important for advancing our appreciation of the nutritional value of food ingredients, for creating new nutritional guidelines and policies for humans at various stages of their lifespan.

  • John F. Leslie, Kansas State University

Innovative Technologies To Control Mycotoxin Contamination:

Cereal grains in most developing countries commonly are contaminated with mycotoxins produced primarily by fungi in the Aspergillus and Fusarium genera.  Aflatoxins, produced by several Aspergillus species, are the best known, while fumonisins, produced by several Fusarium species, also are a widespread, serious contaminant.  Both toxins are more common in maize than they are in indigenous African grains, e.g., sorghum and millet.  Sorghum and millets also thrive under hot, dry conditions, while maize yields poorly.  Encouraging maize cultivation on marginal lands under suboptimal conditions increases the likelihood and severity of the mycotoxin contamination in grain usually consumed by the poorest farmers in the region.  As global climate change pushes African climates to further extremes, this problem will increase.  Reevaluation of the native African cereals to address nutritional needs is seriously needed given their generally low level of mycotoxin contamination.  Many Fusarium spp. grow endophytically within the plant and produce toxin only when the host matures or becomes stressed.  Identifying signals that shift the fungus from endophyte to pathogen and/or trigger toxin biosynthesis could identify critical points for controlling disease and toxin production.  One approach to reducing aflatoxin levels is biocontrol with aflatoxin-nonproducing strains of Aspergillus.  A similar strategy for fumonisins is possible, but would require more significant strain development than is needed for Aspergillus.  This biocontrol method also may not reduce losses due to plant disease caused by the biocontrol strains.  Mycotoxin-contaminated grain has its biggest impact in rural areas.  Traders usually purchase only the best grain from rural farmers.  Rural inhabitants often eat a diet composed primarily of maize, perhaps as much as 500 g/person/day.  Thus, rural farmers in less developed countries are exposed to higher levels of toxins than almost anyone else on the planet.  They eat the most heavily contaminated grain available, and they eat more of it.  SPSS trade restrictions similarly concentrate contaminated foods in these countries, as only relatively uncontaminated foods are allowed into international commerce leaving highly contaminated foodstuffs concentrated in countries with the least ability to deal with it.  Policies that ensure food security in rural regions and that allow contaminated grain to be blended and used for other purposes are needed to remove this contaminated grain from the human food chain and enable its effective utilization.






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