While in Malange, Angola, we met Florinda Chilumbo, a farmer who has 200 hectares planted with fruits and vegetables.These are much-needed food groups in a region where malnutrition is common. But public policies favor the production of less-nutritious maize and soy, so she is thinking of dedicating more land to those crops. Indeed, there are no incentives for investing in Nutrition Smart Agriculture (NSmartAg) in Angola, or much of the rest of the world.
And yet, malnutrition in the forms of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight/obesity is taking a bigger toll—on people’s health and on the world economy. Approximately 700 million people are hungry and 2 billion are overweight and obese. According to the recently published EAT-Lancet Commission Report, approximately 1 in 5 adult deaths are due to diet-related diseases. Clearly, food is an important part of the problem. But it is also a key part of the solution.
This is why at the recent 46th Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome, the World Bank Group and development partners presented NSmartAg as a new way to tackle malnutrition. NSmartAg is an approach that channels public investments in agriculture towards a double objective: improving the bottom line for farmers and agribusiness while also contributing to improve the nutrition status of the local population.
Step 1: Identify a population’s biggest malnutrition problems by consulting with experts and examining existing national nutrition strategies and food security policies. This step also gathers data on what food is being consumed and produced, mainly by looking at dietary intake surveys, household surveys and agriculture census data, if available.
Step 2: Once the malnutrition problem is identified, identify the key nutrients that are lacking based on dietary intake surveys or household surveys.
Step 3: Once there is knowledge about the key nutrients that are lacking, identify food groups that are rich in those nutrients to help bridge that nutrient gap. Based on agriculture production data from household surveys and/or agriculture census, evaluate how much of these foods is produced locally by farmers.
Step 4: For the identified food groups that are produced locally and rich in the nutrients that a population is lacking, analyze production data and post harvest practices to assess whether the productivity and production is increasing and/or whether they are also revenue-increasing for farmers and agribusiness. If the answer to both questions is yes, then this is considered NSmartAg.
The NSmartAg approach has been used in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the World Bank is preparing a National Agriculture Development Program that will help farmers and agribusiness adopt NSmartAg practices and technologies, including production of fruits, vegetables, biofortified crops, and food processing approaches such as nutrient-rich flour, egg production and packaging, meat processing, and fish conservation and packaging. Augustin Baharanyi, representing the Ministry of Agriculture of DRC, called on his peers in other Ministries of Agriculture to make the agriculture sector more ‘nutrition smart’. Most of them have already embraced the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA), so adopting NSmartAg should not be operationally difficult.
Florinda’s case is a prime example of what’s wrong with global agriculture policies and incentives. There is a large imbalance between the food the world should be consuming and what the world actually produces, which makes nutritious foods unaffordable for many. Using WFP estimates, the minimum cost of a nutritious diet for the 734 million people under the poverty line (US$1.90/day) is approximately US$18 trillion/year. Poor people already spend a large portion of their meager income on food–the global estimate of food expenditures by people under the poverty line is US$300 billion/year. Based on initial WFP estimates of the minimum cost of a nutritious diet done for over 30 countries, moving from the current diet to a nutritious diet would involve up to a 1000% increase in food expenditures.
Even if it is a doubling of food expenditures, this would mean US$300 billion in additional food expenditures that the poor will need to spend per year. Even more worrying is the fact that the poorer the country, the higher the cost of a nutritious diet. Meanwhile, just 51 countries are investing US$570 billion in subsidies each year to help farmers produce food that is not necessarily contributing to a nutritious diet. If we look beyond those 51 countries in the sample and account for agricultural subsidies at the global level, that dollar amount of farmer supports is even higher. That’s billions of dollars that could be better spent supporting farmers and poor households produce and consume food that makes people healthier.
The world is investing heavily in climate-smart agriculture. Efforts should also be made to address malnutrition. It’s time to commit to NSmartAg. Just think: If the US$570 billion/year of public agriculture support in just those 51 countries was directed towards NSmartAg practices, Florinda wouldn’t be forced to decide between what’s good for her community’s health and what’s good for her pocket. Indeed, investing in NSmartAg can contribute to improving people’s health and farmers’ livelihoods simultaneously!