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

How to Navigate Tensions Between Nutrition and Agricultural Development

This post was written by Ladd and originally appeared on the SEEP Network.

We know that nutrition affects a person’s productivity. With nearly one billion undernourished people worldwide, it also contributes to persistent poverty. Nutrition interventions alone cannot end malnutrition. Agricultural development programs need to embed nutrition-sensitive interventions into their planning and implementation.

Many of these conversations focus on the natural marriage of nutrition and agriculture, promising progress toward improving the well-being of vulnerable populations. But tensions exist between the two. If not addressed, these tensions, such as how to target participants, balance competing priorities and engage the private sector, can undermine development efforts.

A Nutrition-Sensitive Approach

Most of ACDI/VOCA’s market system development programs target populations with nutritional deficiencies, although improving nutrition typically isn’t their primary objective. We take a nutrition-sensitive approach to address these deficiencies and ensure sustained development.

As Senior Technical Director for Nutrition at ACDI/VOCA, I know firsthand that this approach comes with challenges. Those who benefit from the nutrition interventions are only those targeted by the program activity. In Ethiopia, for example, we target 1.2 million farmers. As a nutritionist, I know that many of those farmers, whether male or female, represent households which include pregnant or lactating women or children under the age of two, who are most at risk for malnutrition.

That’s why we work directly with farmer cooperatives and unions who serve each of their members. In Ethiopia, we integrate nutrition messages into trainings given by government development agents to the cooperatives and unions. We have seen positive changes in nutritional behavior. But each program demands a tailored approach for how best to reach farmer households.

Lasting Change: Involving the Private Sector

Market system development programs aim for lasting change. To make this happen, we engage the private sector in prioritizing nutritional outcomes as part of their business models. Private sector companies work to protect their bottom lines, which is why we, as the nutritional community, must convince them that nutrition interventions are a win-win for profits and for the communities they reach.

Some of these interventions are easier to convey than others, like empowered women boosting agricultural productivity and improving household nutritional outcomes, as they are often the ones feeding families. In Zambia, ACDI/VOCA works with community agro-dealers, who provide their services to the last mile. If these agro-dealers deliver messages on the importance of diverse diets, farmers will buy more inputs, like vegetable and legume seeds, orange maize and veterinary drugs, and businesses will increase their profits.

This success does not come without compromising the quality and depth of nutritional messages delivered by the private sector. But leveraging market systems requires us to work within these limitations to integrate nutrition objectives.

Ladd currently serves as senior technical director for nutrition at ACDI/VOCA and has over 20 years of international nutrition experience in developing countries, including in-depth experience in Somalia, Darfur, Ethiopia, Burundi, Iraq, Afghanistan and Liberia. Ladd leads ACDI/VOCA’s nutrition-sensitive agriculture programming and is recognized as a thought leader, finding creative, strategic and sustainable ways to incorporate nutrition into agriculture programs leading to impact in vulnerable households. Ladd holds an M.S. in public health and nutrition from James Madison University and a B.S. in human nutrition from Oklahoma State University. She is a registered dietitian.