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

Nutrition, Agriculture, and Resilience: Ten Programming Lessons Learned from Feed the Future

This article was originally posted in DAI's online publication Developing Alternatives. The author is Kathleen Kurz, Principal Development Specialist for Nutrition at DAI.

The critical “1,000 days” window for child development, spanning gestation to the second birthday, is a key period for building nutritional resilience. Investments in establishing child health and good nutrition in this period pay lifelong dividends. In this period, children’s still-developing immune systems make them highly vulnerable to disease. Their high and very specific nutrient needs and the limited quantity they can eat at any single meal place them at risk of poor growth outcomes. Research shows that nutrition deficits suffered during this period lead to lifetime lags in growth and development, even if health and food intake subsequently improve.

Nutrition resilience is built by promoting healthy nutritional status (reflected in child growth) or restoring it rapidly after a hunger shock, then actively maintaining optimal levels. The time of year when this is most possible occurs after the harvest, when food is plentiful and families either eat from their own production or can buy food relatively inexpensively in the market.

It is important to promote vigorous child growth and development during the critical first 1,000 days of life: strong child growth in the early years enhances health in the early years, school achievement in the later childhood years, and productivity and income in the adult years.1 After these early years, the growth trajectory is set and largely irreversible. But investments in the health of young children pay lifelong resilience dividends.

The approach to programming that builds healthy nutritional status and resilience among children in the first 1,000 days is fairly well established. A multipronged, largely preventative approach, it involves elements such as medical treatment to cure diseases quickly, thereby preventing their worst consequences; promotion of breastfeeding and complementary feeding; promulgation of good hygiene practices, and provision of safe water and sanitation to prevent illness; expansion of accessible health care to address diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, and other diseases; antenatal care to ensure iron supplementation in pregnancy; and family planning to encourage child spacing.

Nutrition in the Health and Agriculture Sectors

But any discussion of nutrition and health inevitably involves the availability of good food, and that in turn involves the agriculture system. And this intersection of nutrition and agriculture programming is one that clearly warrants closer analysis. As perhaps the world’s largest integrated food security program, one focused on increasing the resilience of program beneficiaries, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-led Feed the Future initiative provides an unprecedented opportunity to explore how to enhance nutrition outcomes in agriculture programs.

We have drawn preliminary lessons from multisectoral agriculture value chain projects being implemented by DAI among smallholder farmers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Liberia, Malawi, and Tajikistan. Each of these Feed the Future programs is expected to improve productivity and incomes for between 250,000 and 400,000 households. In these programs, DAI is applying new principles of nutrition sensitivity to link previously stove-piped agriculture and health-nutrition programs and beneficiary groups. The lessons learned in designing and implementing these Feed the Future programs prompt 10 initial recommendations for better nutrition-sensitive agricultural programming within the Feed the Future initiative. View the original article for more information on each of these recommendations.

1. Build a Common Understanding of Nutrition and Agriculture Terms  

2. Raise Awareness about Nutrition among Stakeholders

3. Understand the Multifactoral Nature of Child Stunting

4. Leverage the Position of Women at the Nexus of Nutrition and Agriculture  

5. Capitalize on Agriculture’s Economic Focus  

6. Understand the Different Approaches to Targeting  

7. Promote Consumption of Animal-Source Foods  

8. Test Ways to Build Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture

9. Capture Consumption and Diet Benefits among Urban Consumers

10. Manage the Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture

Takeaways

  • Preventing child malnutrition is an important way to build resilience and buffer children from the worst effects of acute malnutrition that can occur during the food shocks of the lean season.
  • Paying particular attention to nutrition in a child’s first 1,000 days—to their mothers during pregnancy and the children in their first two years—builds individual resilience and provides a foundation for life-long physical and intellectual development.
  • Agricultural programs can play an important role in enhancing nutrition for vulnerable populations. The U.S. Government's Feed the Future initiative is yielding valuable lessons on how agricultural programs can contribute directly to enhancing nutrition for vulnerable populations and how nutrition-sensitive design and implementation of agriculture programs can best be implemented to achieve nutrition outcomes and build resilience.