The nutrition nexus: how nutrition redefines health, community and economic development


“Nutrition is both a maker and a marker of development. Improved nutrition is the platform for progress in health, education, employment, empowerment of women and the reduction of poverty and inequality, and can lay the foundation for peaceful, secure and stable societies.”

Ban Ki-moon, United Nations 8th Secretary General, a message for the SUN Movement Strategy and Roadmap (2016-2020)

Nutrition has emerged as a key topic for sustainable small holder farming and agriculture development around the world. And not without reason. But surely food security is just about growing enough food right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Here we’ll look at an overview of nutrition and agriculture and get you ready for the Crawford Fund Conference in just a few days.

First some key definitions. These areas are often confused, given the similarities in naming and often indiscriminate use:

Malnutritionrefers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. The term malnutrition covers 2 broad groups of conditions. One is ‘undernutrition’—which includes stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height), underweight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals). The other is overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer).”

Stuntingrefers to a child who is too short for his/her age. Stunting is the failure to grow both physically and cognitively and is the result of chronic or recurrent malnutrition. Its effects often last a lifetime”

Wastingrefers to a child who is too thin for his/her height. Wasting is the result of sudden or acute malnutrition, where the child is not getting enough calories from food and faces an immediate risk of death.”

Overweight “refers to a child who is too heavy for his/her weight. It is the result of an imbalance in calories consumed and calories expended and can lead to lifetime consequences.”

Sources: WHO and UNICEF

It is important to note that the prevalence of stunting (chronic malnutrition) has declined as shown below. However, stunting continues to present itself as a serious issue in places where a drive for economic development has pushed aside traditional diverse subsistence farming crops. For example, a family living off maize porridge as a predominant meal may feel satisfied and consume sufficient number of calories, yet the maize porridge lacks the necessary micro nutrients for healthy development and healthy living.

At the Crawford Fund Conference in 2017, Dr Lindiwe Sibanda spoke about this issue. Dr Sibanda told the story of her grandmother’s production diverse farm and how her brother’s transition to full maize production as a cash crop left the family with enough calories yet insufficient nutrient diversity. In a poor year under the diverse production system, the family had access to a broad range of fruits, grains, legumes and animal products, so while money may have been unavailable, the food accessibility was good. On the other hand, under a cash crop monoculture system, a poor year results in lack of funds for purchase of food and purely maize-based recipe variations for day-to-day living.

Furthermore, the chart above shows the clear rise in overweight and obese children. This obesity epidemic is not just limited to developed countries, but presents health professionals with serious issues in countries around the world.

Recognising the importance of nutrition, the Crawford Fund has positioned its 2018 Conference to target the intersection of agriculture, food and nutrition and the respective impacts on health: “Reshaping Agriculture for: Better Nutrition: the Agriculture, Food, Nutrition and Health Nexus.”

“A simplistic calculation of global food needs based on population growth and calorific requirements to satiate hunger tells only part of, or a misleading, story. Rather, we need to look at what are the outcomes sought in terms of health, what agriculture needs to produce to provide the kinds of diet that will lead to these outcomes, what combination of factors and technologies needs to align to support dietary change and, as part of that mix, how can we adapt to deliver sufficient, nourishing food in a sustainable manner.”

– Crawford Fund conference overview

So stay tuned to our various communication channels as we report back on the latest information and opinions from leading nutrition, agriculture and development experts from around the world. Kicking off Monday night with the John Crawford Memorial Address by Frances Adamson, Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

AgriEducate is heading to the Crawford Fund Conference as a media partner. We’ll be updating you live via Facebook and Twitter, with interviews, articles and discussion points to come. So stay tuned and don’t miss out on exciting developments!

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