Reducing Malnutrition: It takes more than food
USAID’s Bureau of Food Security (BFS), the lead implementer of Feed the Future—the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative—organized a symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago on Feb 15, 2014. The symposium, “Innovative and Integrated approaches to reducing malnutrition,” organized by the BFS Office of Agriculture and Research Policy, shed light on the recent advances in scientific research related to nutrition and food security, and how we at USAID can adopt this new evidence-based knowledge in our programming and policies to have a bigger impact on women and child malnutrition. The Feed the Future operates on an evidence-based model and this symposium highlighted that approach.
Each of the presentations underscored the idea that the best possible health outcomes in developing nations result from policy focused not only on growing more food but also on the quality of the crops grown and the cleanliness of the environment in which it is consumed. Boosting agricultural productivity alone won’t do away with health problems caused by malnutrition—a surprise to policymakers who have thought a bigger, richer food supply could help alleviate nutrition-related maladies in developing nations. New evidence reveals that even if fruits, vegetables, and protein sources abound, the body can’t absorb the nutrients therein if living conditions suffer—like bacteria in the local water or fungal toxins in local corn crops that prevent nutrients from being processed. This disconnect between food supply and nutrition-related health issues has been highlighted by efforts to increase food stocks that still leave malnourished individuals in developing countries stunted. Indeed, new evidence, much of it from research in animals, suggests that global agricultural policies could do more to solve the stunting problem by focusing on factors they have previously ignored, like sanitation.
This session explored several such factors that directly or indirectly affect nutritional outcomes. Dr. John Leslie (presentation available here) has characterized the fungi that produce immune-compromising aflatoxins and discussed the crops most commonly contaminated with them. Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths, Director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Nutrition in Africa, discussed the importance of water and sanitation, mediums by which bacteria and toxins can make their way into the gut. Dr. Jeffery Gordon discussed how water, sanitation, and aflatoxins together alter gut microbiome, preventing nutrient absorption. Finally Dr. Griffiths and Director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Nutrition in Asia Dr. Patrick Webb, both of whom have evaluated nutrition programs in Uganda and Nepal, respectively, talked about where efforts that focus on agriculture and health have led to greater benefits than focusing on agriculture alone (presentations available here). They explored whether certain policy processes helped positively impact the nutrition programs in these locations, providing insight into how collaboration between agriculture and nutrition can be increased going forward.
Make sure to see the photos from the session, watch a quick key takeaway from an audience member, and make sure to send us your questions via the comment box below or contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also watch the press briefing of the panel here.
Audience Member Takeaway