Leveraging agriculture for nutrition

by Marian Amaka Odenigbo and Karima Cherif
Photo by Karima Cherif

On 11 June  to 5 July 2014  we participated in the supervision and implementation support mission for IFAD-funded projects and programmes in Malawi and Zambia.

Over the last years, IFAD is focusing more on nutrition sensitive interventions and as a nutrition specialist, my role is to make sure IFAD-funded programmes are nutrition-sensitive.

In reviewing IFAD-funded programmes and projects, we are retrofitting ongoing investment activities to make sure they are nutrition sensitive, while making sure that  newly designed and upcoming interventions are nutrition sensitive.

To this end, we’ve made sure that the project staff and supervision team are sensitized on nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

In the case of Rural Livelihoods and Economic Enhancement Programme (RLEEP) one of the on-going projects in Malawi, we identified activities supporting nutrition-sensitive interventions. The programme is commended for its preventive measure on aflatoxin control in groundnut. Aflatoxins are  toxic produced by fungi on crops like groundnut and maize.

Groundnut is one of the value chain commodities of this programme and the intervention activities included the distribution of an energy and time saving hand sheller to prevent aflatoxin. This technology is helping to reduce workload of women farmers, thus allowing them more time to provide care giving and to contribute to making sure the family benefits from a sound nutritious diet.

To further improve the nutrition of the target group, the supervision team recommendations included strengthening and extending the awareness building campaign of aflatoxin impact on markets, to health and nutrition. This recommendation helps preventing the adverse impact on beneficiaries considering that the chronic exposure and regular intake of aflatoxin contaminated food and livestock feeds bring about chronic malnutrition.

We’re pleased to hear from beneficiaries how the integrated nutrition value chain (INVC)  training supported by USAID in partnership with the farmers Union of Malawi had helped the Nkhunguyembe Cooperative in ,Mchinji district to improve their dietary intake. This training had informed the beneficiaries on diverse food preparation and nutritious recipe formulation.

The mission commended this complementary activity as an opportunity for RLEEP to support value added product development such as plumpy nut to address the critical state of undernutrition in project location.

Multi-sectoral collaboration

In view of adopting the multi-sectoral strategy in addressing the various determinant of malnutrition, IFAD’s country office in Zambia is harmonizing its operations with the government and other development partners to support the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative.

In Zambia, UN agencies have identified nutrition as a ‘signature area’ for the UN delivering as one given the government of Republic of Zambia (GRZ) commitment to SUN and its pledge to strengthen efforts to fight the critical state of undernutrition.

IFAD is an active member of the UN Technical Working Group (TWG) on Nutrition established to improve the multi-sectoral governance and multi-stakeholder nutrition actions towards nutrition challenges.

The UN team on the ground - FAO, IFAD, ILO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP, WHO, UNAIDS, IOM, UNESCO -  have developed a letter of understanding which serves as a guide on roles and responsibilities of the various agencies vis-a-vis  nutrition interventions.

IFAD commitment as an active player in this joint UN initiative includes:

  • support to nutrition sensitive agriculture with focus on gender equality and women empowerment in addressing under nutrition during the first 1000 most critical days of life. 
  • focusing on diverse food production to ensure sustainable and adequate food access and consumption while addressing nutrition challenges.

  • support to nutritional outcomes of the major global food producers by supporting smallholder farmers through irrigation development and integrated homestead food production (IHFP). The programs on irrigation development and IHFP facilitate diversified dietary intake and generate income for improved livelihood.
  • focus on rural poor people, indigenous and marginalized population to promote and explore the nutritional potentials of local and neglected food varieties.

In Malawi, IFAD has engaged with the UN nutrition team for possible collaboration in its operations at various districts. For example UNICEF has a structure system for training of trainers and sensitization on nutrition. This presents an opportunity to collaborate with UNICEF to strengthen nutrition capacity of extension workers/ development agents at district levels in facilitating nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions.

Malawi IFAD country office brings IFAD’s comparative advantages for engagement in the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) as a participating UN Organizations supporting the implementation of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) II.