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

Consultation Topic: Production and Processing of Nutrient-rich Food

This discussion will focus on research opportunities related to agricultural production and processing of nutrient-rich foods. This includes opportunities to increase uptake and boost effectiveness of production technologies, as well as opportunities for processing to increase the desirability, convenience, and availability of nutritious, diverse crops throughout the year.

We encourage you to actively engage by sharing your experience and thoughts on additional areas for research. Your engagement will inform USAID as it shapes its priorities for nutrition and food systems investments in the future.

Click “Add New Comment” below to start or join the conversation. Please consider these questions as they relate to the Feed the Future Innovation Lab literature review (See Event Resources to the right): 

  • Do we have enough information on the impact of nutrient-rich crops (including biofortified crops) on health and nutrition outcomes?
  • How do we assess scalability and sustainability of food system interventions for nutrition?
  • Markets play a key role in determining the availability, affordability, desirability, and convenience of adequate diets year-round. What research is needed to help us better understand the relationship between markets and human nutrition?
  • There are tradeoffs between land use productivity, (with particular reference to livestock ownership and husbandry), and diet and nutrition outcomes. What are the knowledge gaps that need to be filled to address these trade-offs?
  • Food processing is becoming increasingly prominent given rapid changes in dietary patterns. What research is needed in this area (i.e. cost effectiveness and efficiency in production, functional outcomes of fortified foods, etc.)?
  • What short-, medium-, and long-term outcome measures are missing to measure change in agriculture and food systems for nutrition?  
  • What remains to be done to help guide the development of harmonized measurements for consumer outcomes (food-groups and dietary diversity indicators)? Are there other measurements we should be considering?

This discussion will remain open from November 12-15 2019. Moderated discussions will take place:

  • November 12, 10:30 AM-12:30 PM EST (UCT 15:30-17:30), Heather Danton, Project Director, USAID Advancing Nutrition
  • November 12, 10:00 PM-12:00 AM EST (UCT 3:00-5:00), Ilana Cliffer. Doctoral Student, Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

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Good day every one from the area I based we have this huge gap between food system and nutrition for instance most of the vegetables we consume in Urban areas of Sabon Gari and Giwa LGAs of kaduna state comes from the rural areas and yet the prevalence of nutrition related diseases is high across all age group due to lack or poor nutrition education. Also I strongly believe if these rural dwellers will have proper orientation about food system it address the issue of malnutrition affecting them. As for processing, we are lacking the enabling environment to do that the most processing method is sun drying no value addition. And there is a gap between the farmers and most of the research conducted regarding processing if this gap can be covered a lot of the rural dwellers will be empowered financially.

Thank you for your comment, we appreciate your insight and we look forward to hearing others' perspectives as well. Additionally, please join us for a kick-off webinar with the Feed the Future Nutrition Innovation Lab for an overview of findings from their recent literature review to identify research opportunities to strengthen food systems and improve nutrition today, Tuesday 12 November, 2019 from 09:00 AM - 10:30 AM Time Zone: (GMT-05:00) Eastern Time (US and Canada) please join us here: http://jsi.adobeconnect.com/edwwa2wuvz5k/event/registration.html

As a reminder to all interested in participating, please join us during the two moderated discussions held today on this forum:

  • November 12, 10:30 AM-12:30 PM EST (UCT 15:30-17:30), moderated by Heather Danton, Project Director, USAID Advancing Nutrition
  • November 12, 10:00 PM-12:00 AM EST (UCT 3:00-5:00), moderated by Ilana Cliffer. Doctoral Student, Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

While we also welcome comments at any time, please use the questions outlined above to guide discussion. 

Welcome to the e-consultation about food production and processing for improved nutrition! I'm looking forward to hearing from everyone!  Just to get us started, I've been thinking a lot about diet quality and what we know about homestead food production interventions being successful in improving dietary diversity (one aspect of quality). What have been people's experience re the tradeoff that exists between the benefits of improved dietary diversity vs. the time and labor demands that often fall to women in order to maintain home gardens?

There was some talk in the webinar about non-biofortified staples but the fact is most work has focussed on staples and there are some significant issues. Farm Radio International was a partner with CIMMYT and SG2000 in a Quality Protein Maize scaling project in Ethiopia (funded by the governmennt of Canada). We had severe challenges including a lack of the new maize seed. The research produced the basic seed but the Ethiopian seed system has a huge inertia and seed was only provided in large bags. Farm families had no chance to try the new seed on a small part of their land. It was all or nothing and given the risk invloved in putting all eggs in a new basket, most did not even attempt. So even a nutritionally improved crop has trouble gaining a foothold (we worked with Ethiopian radio stations to create a huge national damand over the course of five years but without seed, unsatisifed demand becomes very disappointing). The other challenge was proving that there was a good nutritional outcome, especially in children under five, if their diets contained the improved maize instead of the older varieties. Unfortunately, doing child nutrition and diet research in Africa is very challenging.

Thanks for this thought, David. Couldn't agree with you more! Nutrition-related research is always challenging. In terms of measurement, I'd be curious whether your baseline survey for this project or your monitoring systems included any metrics to be able to track changes in behavior (e.g. purchasing the improved seed and/or consuming the improved maize)?

Hi Heather:

The problem in the end was there was insufficient seed available to be able to draw any conclusions. Also Farm Radio International was not the project lead. That was CIMMYT, and they only surveyed in what they called "the intervention zone", which only included communities that had direct extension visits from SG2000. There was no nation-wide data available and because of the seed problem, it probably didn't really matter. We do know that seed demand was considerable because listeners phoned our partner radio stations to complain that they couldn't find the seed. We also did a phone out survey (not yet published) to crowd source seed availability by region and also source participants willingness to pay for the better seed.

I think that "production" in this case improved seed from an international breeding program (CIMMYT) tied to the national ag research institute in Ethiopia (EIAR) was a good idea but the inflexibility of the seed distribution system was a hindrance. Even the best research can by stymied by fragile infrastruture. As for nutrition studies, as you know, the challenge is doing feeding trials on minors with truly informed consent and the possibility of harm to those who don't get the fortified diet.




Sorry I had some family commitments so I was not able to continue with the discussion after the webinar. Please allow me some comments on seed and other government support. Most of the countries of concern have a very limited tax base and thus governments do not have the financial resources to provide civil service including those retlated to agriculture support such as seed. Thus, the local seed industry does not have near the capacity to provide certified seed to all small famers nor does it have the financial capacity to undertake a viable seed certification program. The solution as I see it is to pump small quanties of quality seed into more remote areas and work with local agrodealers to produce and maintain quality seed locally in what I refer to as a genetic pump. This does mean you need to avoid hybrid seed and concentrate on self pollenated crops or open pollenated composite lines that will remain reasonable pure. Perhaps not the most ideal but I think practical and good job for local NGO to undertake. Please reviewe the following webpages: https://smallholderagriculture.agsci.colostate.edu/financially-suppressed-economy-2/ ; https://smallholderagriculture.agsci.colostate.edu/financially-stalled-governments/ ; https://smallholderagriculture.agsci.colostate.edu/impact-of-financially-stalled-government-limited-variety-improvement-seed-certification/ ; https://webdoc.agsci.colostate.edu/smallholderagriculture/The_Crop_Genetic_Pump.pdf 

Hi Richard

This was not the problem in Ethiopia. Most farmers are already growing improved maize hybrids and Ethioipian Seed Enterprise does not have a problem providing the seed of well-estabilished varieties. The real issue is that there is no entrepreneural spirit in the government parastatal. Seed is provided based on orders but the orders have to be made many months, maybe a whole season, in advance. Not very useful if you just want to sample. Farmers in Ethiopia pay for hybrids and their primary criterian (at least among male farmers) is yield rather than nutrition. It is not our position to tell farmers that hybrids are better or worse that OPV. The project was designed so that farmers already growing hybrids would have more nutritious replacements.

Also, the Opaque 2 gene responsible for the extra Lysine and Tryptophan in Quality Protein Maize is recessive, so in an OPV environement, the trait is prone to genetic erosion over several seasons, as pollen from other, non-QPM varieties drifts in from adjacent farms (in Ghana, trying to get all farmers in an area to grow the OPV Obatanpa was very challenging). The QPM Hybrids which have been "converted" from the existing highland maize hybrids solve this problem, so the nurtitious quality of the maize is preservered.



I wanted to pick up on the thread that Abdulkadir Muhammad from Nigeria started re food processing. I don't think that the evidence review found much documentation re efforts being made by governments to improve the food environment for nutrition. However, I would love to hear others' experience in countries that may have established standards and/or incentives for small to medium enterprise food processors. My sense is that we need to improve home-based processing knowledge AND make safe, nutrient-rich processed foods more available and affordable in markets, as well. One example of this is from my experience in Bangladesh where drying of fish is common but often done without good hygienic standards and also packaged and sold in very large volumes. An early feed the future investment worked to address quality standards among small fish drying entities and helped them to diversity their packaging sizes so that more economically vulnerable families could afford to buy this important source of protein that also has a longer shelf life. 

The first and most critical question to ask in all this is what do we understand as the critical role or policies/legislation including incentives and disincentives to encourage farmers, producers, processors, retailers or other stakeholders within the food system to prioritise nutritious crops/foods. In East Africa, we have one of the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world >40% yet we have plenty of fertile soil, water bodies among other opportunities. Our food systems are broken and thus, we require higher level government intervention to unbreak it and make production, availability and consumption of nutritious foods more wide spread. Can practical strategic implementation research be supported to address this versus small scale research studies that often go unnoticed?

Yes! What a great point, Brenda - and a good solution to undertake some strategic implementation research. Seems we need to include a way of better understanding of what types of government policy and investment have worked in other places with respect to each of the areas you mention: production, availability, affordability and consumption - for improved nutrition. Then some implementation research might help us to adapt to the situation you all are facing there in East Africa. Do others want to share additional ideas? 

Any experience of successful processing and preservation specially of fruits and vegetables by small scale farmers without safety is compromised would be interesting.

Looking over the discussion from the webinar, there were many interesting questions and thoughts related to production and processing that are worth pursuing. A few of them were:

  1. Did you find much evidence or identify research opportunities including fish in the food system and nutrition?
  2. Are there ever issues with marine fish being too high in salt when they are dried, and what findings are there about pregnant woman and children consuming dried marine fish?
  3. What are the gaps and implications for over nutrition in the production and processing of nutrient-rich foods in developing countries?
  4. A strategy to reduce food waste could be related to over-production of foods where the demand is not there, or people cannot afford the food that is produced. Does anyone consider over production as a problem relating to food waste?
  5. What percent of women are in an adverse vs collaborative with their partners, and how much of women's time and energy is used for domestic chores (leaving how much time to participate in economic activities?) Relieving domestic drudgery could do wonders to increase their opportunities to participate in economic activities. I also noted the initial mechanization into rural Africa was for maize mills reducing the need for pounding maize.

Hi commenters,

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Happy chatting!

Clarissa Perkins, Digital Communications Lead, Agrilinks

Excellent discussions. Responding to question one for this session on information of nutrient rich foods, the high cost of nutrition research has been mentioned. Recent research has focused on biofortified foods where donors are investing large sums, but there is a gap in investment in the roles of grain legumes as part of a diverse diet. Research in Malawi found adding roasted cowpea flour to maize porridge as a weaning food significantly reduced stunting in the 6-12months range (see Stephenson et al. 2018  doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.160986 ). There is room for more of this research, given the importance of such crops in production and marketing in West Africa, for example.

Thanks, Cynthia!  Great point and thanks for the specific example and citation. Do you know of any examples where grain legume flours are being included in larger scale processing of complementary foods?  

I think a main part of the refguee diet is corn/soy blend 80% maize 20% soy and consumes a lot of the soybean production in E. Africa

This is a very important topic for Connexus, as much of our work links to rural and agricultural development and its impact on food security. At the Cracking the Nut Conference in 2018, Semilla Nueva shared its experiences in working with Guatemalans to accept a biofortified corn, which had many positive impacts in terms of improved nutrition, yet they learned the hard way that they needed to demonstrate the positive financial implications in order encourage uptake by local farmers. For more information, see lesson 10 on page 21 of the Cracking the Nut 2018 publication, which you can find it at the bottom of this page: https://crackingthenutconference.com/cracking-the-nut-2018/ And stay tuned for our upcoming publication from Cracking the Nut 2019, which focused on "Leveraging Systems for Improved Food Security."

Generally the accessibility and affordability of processed foods is thought to be a bad thing for low-income consumers but when is it a good thing? How can food processing and new products contribute to improved nutrition?

Thank you for your contributions everyone. As a reminder, you may need to refresh your browser to see new comments. 

I'm thinking about one of the comments that we received during the webinar this morning re use of hormones and enzymes to promote increased production of nutrient-rich crops and animal source foods. We know that hormones given to cows to increase milk production has a deleterious effect on human health. Years ago I did reasearch with University of Florida on adding hormones to soils and irrigation systems to increase vegetable and berry production. But, the long term health effects on consumption of foods grown with these inputs was not even considered. In general, what agricultural practices do we think are most important to nutrition? It is more complicated than simply increasing production, isn't it? 

Hi, All. This has been an interesting and challenging conversation so far. I look forward to moderating further discussion tomorrow around population level agriculture-nutrition linkages: https://www.agrilinks.org/post/consultation-topic-agriculture-nutrition-linkages-population-scale

Please do comment anytime, active moderation will start at 10 am EST tomorrow. 

Thanks to all of you who participated in this first moderated discussion. Please join us for the next moderated discussion on this topic, Production and Processing of Nutrient-rich Food, at 10:00 PM-12:00 AM EST (UCT 3:00-5:00). The conversation will be moderated by Ilana Cliffer,. Doctoral Student, Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. We hope you can join a moderated discussion but you are also welcome to comment anytime on any topic. As a reminder, the discussions will continue through next Monday, November 18th. For the full schedule of events, check out our e-consultation home.

We are pleased to have the webinar recording from today's launch posted. You can find the full recording on the e-consultation home page and this version is edited to focus on today's topic. Please reference the guiding questions above to help us identify gaps and opportunities for research related to the production and process of niturent-rich food. We look forward to our next moderated discussion at 10:00 PM-12:00 AM EST (UCT 3:00-5:00).

The Genocide Oversight and It’s Impact on Quality Nutrition

At the beginning of the introduction webinar I mentioned the rather provocative term “The Genocide Oversight” with the brief definition of “attempting to compel smallholder farmers to exert more dietary energy than they have access to” and that if not addressed it would greatly hinder farmers ability to produce the diversified diet desired and force them to continue to concentrate on high energy foods like grains and tubers. I think this needs some additional commentary which I offer below.

The genocide oversight is really the result of the short comings of agronomy, my discipline. With small plot technology agronomy does an excellent job of determining what the potential of an innovation is, but says nothing about the operational requirements, in terms of labor or access to mechanization, to extend the small plot results across a field, farm or smallholder community, with the underlying default assumption it is not a problem. Unfortunately, it is a major problem that falls into an administrative void between agronomist or other bio-scientists who develop innovations and the socio-scientists. Who within an agriculture development project is reasonable to determine?

  1.        The labor requirements needed to extend an innovation across the field, farm or community;
  2.        The availability of the labor in the community; and
  3.        Most important, what are the rational compromises the farmers will make in the innovation in adjusting it to their limited operational base?

The economist may determine the labor requirements as part of a cost benefit analysis, but normally do not look at the availability of labor, nor the rational compromises when labor is not available.

The impact of limited labor can be easily seen by observing the timing of activities particularly crop establishment. Typically, in manual agriculture it can be spread over 8 weeks from the onset of the rains or other starting gun. During this time there is a well-established time of planting declining yield function, that could reduce the yield potential of crop by over 50% greatly hindering family food security. It is virtually impossible to hoe your way out of poverty.

Of course, labor is fueled by dietary energy. Thus, the question is how much dietary energy is available to smallholder famers and their families and what will this allow them to accomplish. This data is hard to come by, although by this time with all the work on improved nutrition it should be readily available. The best information I have found, the dietary calories for smallholder farmers is about 2000 to 2500 kcal/day with 2000 kcal representing basic metabolism. If this is the case and it requires 300 kcal/hour to undertake agronomic field work, the smallholder farmers cannot be expected or asked to work more than a couple hours of diligent effort per day, perhaps paced over a some additional hours. If smallholder farmers are expected to undertake a full day of diligent agronomic work the dietary requirements will be in excess of 4000 kcal, nearly twice what they have access to. If it takes some 300 person hours to prepare a hectare of land, it will take more than the 8 weeks mentioned above.

Now, how often do the innovations designed to assist smallholder farmers including those intended for more diversifies nutrition imply an increase in labor. If the smallholder farmer or the smallholder community is to adopt these innovations where will this extra labor come from? Also, if dietary energy is in short supply won’t the famers be compelled to concentrate on energy rich grains and tubers? What is the alternative? To design innovations that compel farmers to exceed their available calories, can only be done by asking them to starve which is genocide and could or should be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for investigation into conspiring and promoting genocide for smallholders as a crime against humanity. While this may be a highly provocative comment, check the math, it may be far closer too accurate than any of us would like.

Thus, as you continue to work on improving the nutrition of smallholder farmers and their communities, please make certain what you are asking is operationally sound and not overextending the beneficiary’s capacity to implement, and can be fully integrated into their economic reality. I really don’t want to start referring people to The Hague.

Thank you

The webpages dealing with this are:








Feel free to download the poster and post it above your desk.

Hi, Dick. On nutrition-sensitive agriculture projects I've worked with in South Asia and sub Saharan Africa, labor constraints are indeed a persistent challenge for smallholders. Contributing factors vary from land fragmentation to out migration or local wage labor demands, or the combination of child and elder care, housework, and livelihood tasks that often overwhelm women. 

It's good that the WEIA and simpler qualitative methodologies like gendered daily activity charts can help to map out labor and time demands (separate but related issues), to help programmers estimate the impact of nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions on the populations engaged in the program. But I love your idea of working across disciplines to more accurately model the labor needed over time to adopt and maintain new agricultural or market-related practices.

Hello! I will be kicking off the next moderated session on food production and processing for improved nutrition. I'm excited to continue the conversation that was started earlier. Please feel free to make your comments, and continue to refresh the page to see new comments.

In reference to the question above about tradeoffs between land use productivity and diet and nutrition outcomes, I'd be curious to hear about people's experiences with uptake of improved agronomic techniques by smallholder farmers, and any evidence people have come across in terms of how to best encourage the widespread use of improved techniques that are specifically designed for different farmers' environments. 

I can add a quick reference. I just reviewed a draft article by Eric Wahl of Concern. The article included a case study in Zambia in which the gave farmers a $10.00 weekly gift, monitored what they spent it on which was mostly food and how that resulted better land management.




Interesting, thank you! I'll look forward to reading that when it gets published.

I am moderating the session on agriculture-nutrition linkages at population scale and have posed a follow up question to yours on that forum. The question is, do we have data or information on whether people are using cash transfers for nutritious foods i.e. not just staples like maize but fruits, vegetables and animal source foods?

Thanks Sanele, that's a really good question. I also wonder if there would be a difference in terms of how conditional vs unconditional cash transfers are used. 

Sanele, I think they would but only after the meet the caloric needs to optimize their economic opportunities. Until that is meet reducing the caloric intake will hinder their economic opportunity. 

Another question to consider: In the evidence review, we note that while transitioning from subsistence farming to greater reliance on markets is helpful to improve resilience and stabilize diet quality, greater use of markets poses its own risks. What research have you all come across on how market actors in the private and public sectors can best improve rural households’ access to nutritious diets?

In regards to the research opportunities around food processing, one thing we did not get to discuss deeply in the webinar today was how food processing can be done in a way that minimizes the production of greenhouse gases as well as food waste. Has anyone come across evidence in this arena?

We'd like to remind everyone that the discussion will continue through next Monday November 18th, so please feel free to continue the conversation. Additionally, please follow this link to watch a short clip from yesterday's webinar that summarizes findings from the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Nutrition’s evidence review on food systems and nutrition research related to production and processing of nutrient-rich food.

Promotion of minor millets, research on scalable methodologies in production technology keeping in mind conserving it's bio diversity, alleviate mal nutrition, innovative processing methods, making of palatable ready to serve foods, behavior change communication and scalable marketing to reach high value markets example sea lifting instead of air cargo..

Dear USAID colleagues,

Thank you a lot for this transparent approach and the opportunity to comment on the evidence review and prominent research areas.

Here are some comments, on behalf of HarvestPlus, on the literature review and in the context of some of the suggested discussion questions:

  • We have solid evidence on the efficacy and effectiveness of biofortified crops on health and nutrition outcomes. Various studies show that consumption of biofortified crops improves not only the intake of micronutrients but also health outcomes such as the prevalence of diarrhea, cognitive performance and physical activity, and night vision. Estimates of impact (DALYs saved) based on these results and known effects of micronutrient deficiencies on morbidity and mortality also place biofortification as a highly cost-effective nutrition intervention. Further studies show that the adoption of these crops by farmers and households requires minimum behavior change. Therefore, biofortification is a low hanging fruit among novel interventions to thwart hidden hunger. Additionally, we have substantial evidence by our monitoring data and our adoption and impact evaluation studies on farmers’ adoption and consumers’ acceptance. On page 10 in the evidence review, these were highlighted as “research opportunities”. Please, see here for our latest evidence summary document, which highlights the key findings of the aforementioned published research. We would be happy to provide further evidence and information as needed.
  • In the literature review, biofortification and GMO are mentioned in the same breath in most of the cases, and on page 22, the phrase “… biofortified crops and other GMOs” is used. These should be changed for accuracy and clarity, also, because all countries distinguish between conventionally bred vs. transgenic varieties of crops. Biofortification uses conventional plant breeding or agronomic practices to increase targeted micronutrient levels in food crops, while transgenic crops are produced by transferring specific genes from other plants or organisms. To date, more than 340 conventionally bred biofortified varieties of 11 staple crops have been released in over 40 countries through collaborative efforts between HarvestPlus, CGIAR centers, national agricultural research systems (NARS) and private sector seed producers.
  • Another note on the evidence review is that the research opportunity, “research on the effectiveness of consuming multiple biofortified crops simultaneously on health and nutrition outcomes, including functional outcomes” is very accurate, and this research question is currently being addressed.
  • Climate change is highlighted as an emerging priority throughout the document. It could also be included among the cross-cutting themes. Climate-smart approaches/interventions, should improve not just the availability of food but also its quality. Recent evidence shows that by 2050, the increasing CO2 concentration will result in many crops – in particular, staple cereal crops – grown under such conditions losing their iron, zinc, and protein levels by 3–17%. Technological solutions (such as micronutrient enriched, biofortified staple crops) will help counter those effects and sustain healthy and micronutrient-rich options within the food system.
  • Biofortification could be included in the definition of “Nutrition-specific interventions” on page 17 in the evidence review.
  • Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are on the rise and are estimated to cause almost 75% of deaths around the world. One of the major causes of NCDs is unhealthy diets and malnutrition [ref: 2018 Global Nutrition Report]. Therefore, the relationship between malnutrition and NCDs could be highlighted among research opportunities, particularly given recent evidence on the causal association between antioxidant nutrients and the genesis and/or progression of these conditions.



Destan Aytekin

Knowledge Management Specialist, HarvestPlus