IFAD is a United Nations specialized
agency and an international financial institution committed to providing
investments that create a route out of poverty for rural people in the
developing world, most of whom are involved in agriculture. While our mandate
and commitment are unchanged, the context of our work is rapidly evolving, and
we are taking steps to adapt. In recent years we have created the Environment
and Climate Division, the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) multi-donor trust fund, the Strategy
and Knowledge Department, and new policies on gender and other issues. We are serious
about tackling the problems that smallholder farmers face, and that
necessitates adapting to changes in the development landscape.
As a result, we are increasing
our commitment of resources to issues related to nutrition. This may be
surprising, since nutrition has been a concern of IFAD from the start
and improving nutrition was embodied in the Agreement Establishing IFAD. And much
has been achieved nutritionally over the course of IFAD’s existence through
focusing on smallholder farmers and on women, who do most of the agricultural labour
and are particularly vulnerable.
But in spite of our achievements, we can—and need—to do more. Even small
adjustments to IFAD investments to make them more nutrition-sensitive could
have an impressive impact on nutrition outcomes. Investments that are nutrition-specific and
nutrition-sensitive can help re-shape agricultural production and the food
system as a whole in ways that improve nutrition.
We can categorize some investments as having a primarily nutritional
purpose, such as biofortified staple crops or home vegetable gardens. They improve nutrition and dietary intake and
quality, though they have other benefits as well--for example, some
biofortified crops may command higher prices in the market, or be more
disease-resistant or adapted to micronutrient-deficient soils.
But other actions not specifically aimed at nutrition can still affect
it. For example, higher productivity and
income can increase rural people’s access to a greater variety of foods. Improved
marketing and storage infrastructure can lead to lower relative prices for
fruits, vegetables, fish and livestock products, making them more affordable. Empowerment
of women can improve their and their families’ nutrition.
To eradicate malnutrition, of course, is a complex endeavor. Our work must
be complemented with actions in other sectors, particularly health, education,
and water and sanitation. But good nutrition still begins with food and
agriculture. A food-based approach also ensures a sound foundation for
nutrition throughout our life cycle. With adequate resources and knowledge,
mothers can often draw on local foods to prepare an adequate diet rich in
energy and micronutrients for their young children. And with more nutrition-sensitive agriculture
and food systems, older children and adults will be able to make the choices
they need to consume a more nutritious diet – ensuring that the food they eat
gives them the whole complex of macro- and micronutrients they need.
...good nutrition still begins with food and agriculture. A food-based approach also ensures a sound foundation for nutrition throughout our life cycle.The human cost of inaction
Improving nutrition is still a massive, unfinished agenda. In 2011,
there were 165 million children with stunted growth, leading to compromised
cognitive development and physical abilities. Every day more than 8,000
children die from preventable causes related to undernutrition. We can’t let another generation be scarred by
hunger and malnutrition.
IFAD is well-positioned through its presence in countries where its
investments can also support efforts to increase agriculture’s contribution to
improved nutrition. Many of the countries where we work in sub-Saharan Africa
and south Asia will not be able to break out of poverty or sustain economic
advances when so much of their population is unable to achieve the level of nutrition
that is needed for a healthy and productive life. Undernutrition is responsible for the loss of
billions of dollars in productivity; it is estimated that an amount equal to
11% of GDP in Africa and Asia is lost to undernutrition every year, with
productivity losses to individuals of more than 10% of lifetime earnings. This is
a staggering loss – the value of goods
and services that countries in Africa and Asia could and should have produced,
but didn’t, equals billions of dollars.
More than 4 in 10 children under the age of five are undernourished in south Asia
and sub-Saharan Africa, and about 7-15% of children in those regions are wasted
(very thin). Many of these countries have prioritized nutrition and are at the heart of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN)
Movement. IFAD can help to deliver progress and action to scale up nutrition in
these SUN countries because we are already very active in almost all of them.
expand, sharpen and accelerate our efforts on nutrition will impose a heavy
cost in wasted opportunities.
There is broad agreement that
there can be no eradication of poverty without dealing with nutrition. When
farm families are malnourished, they are less productive, and the children
suffer long-term damage. Improving the nutrition of farming populations not
only reduces the number of undernourished people, but also increases
agricultural productivity and contributes to a thriving agricultural economy.
Thus, nutrition is not a sideshow to our central work of combatting rural
hunger and poverty; it is central and even essential to that mission.
...nutrition is not a sideshow to our central work of combatting rural hunger and poverty … it is central and even essential to that mission.
We have to start from the premise that agriculture needs to provide
greater and more comprehensive attention to nutrition. We can build on actions
we know have direct or indirect impact on nutrition, as described above. Leveraging food supply chains to improve
nutrition and scaling-up the use of biofortified staple crops -- rich in
essential micronutrients -- hold much promise.
We should focus on actions that will optimize agriculture’s
contribution to the nutrition of rural people, especially women and children, while
at the same time being sensitive to gender and impacts on environmental
If better nutrition is going to be a goal, that goal needs to be measurable. We will be
investing in project designs that incorporate nutritional considerations, and
following-up with good evaluations and rigorous assessments to gather evidence
that our activities are improving nutrition, especially for children under
five. IFAD’s overall results
measurements framework for 2013-2015 includes chronic child malnutrition (i.e.
height for age, or stunting) as one of the two anchor indicators to measure
IFAD’s impact on the ground.
IFAD is also
collaborating with the CGIAR’s Agriculture for Nutrition and Health
Program (A4NH), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
and the new Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition to
increase knowledge of which agriculture and food systems can in fact accelerate
progress and have a substantial effect on nutrition. With the assistance of Canada, we have launched an initiative to mainstream
nutrition perspectives into projects and programmes right from the start. More recently, with support from Germany, we
are developing nutrition-sensitive value chains for smallholders in
middle-income countries. Partnerships and knowledge
exchange will continue to be an important part of our future work on nutrition,
and I look forward to working with our members and partners to ensure that
IFAD-funded programmes contribute to greater access to nutritious foods and
high-quality diets for the rural poor, particularly women and children.