Report identifies gaps in research on agriculture for nutrition

The impacts of agricultural developments on improved nutrition are not being addressed by research Copyright: Flickr/Feed My Starving Children

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Serious knowledge gaps exist in how agricultural developments lead to people’s improved nutrition, which current research is not addressing, a report has found.

The report reveals eight gaps that are currently being neglected, including specific target groups — particularly rural workers and non-rural populations — as well as a lack of methodologies to guide research in the field.

Published by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the report — ‘Current and Planned Research on Agriculture for Improved Nutrition: A Mapping and Gap Analysis’ — first identified the direct agricultural factors, such as farming practices and the food value chain, as well as indirect, including health, economic and educational status, that feed into nutritional outcomes.

It then analysed which of these factors 151 research projects on agriculture for nutrition — mainly based in low- to middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa — addressed.

Firstly, the report’s authors found, not a single project considered the full range of direct and indirect factors identified by the model, leading to a poor understanding of the full ‘pathway of change’ — from agricultural processes to nutritional measurements in populations.

More specifically, research addressing the indirect effects of agricultural changes on wider market dynamics, such as economic growth, income and health services — which have a knock-on effect on nutrition — was particularly deficient.

Research into the effects of agricultural policy changes on nutrition levels was also found to be lacking.

At a similar macro level, there was a lack of research into governance — investigating how changing policy and institutional processes could improve the development, implementation and scaling-up of agriculture for nutrition programmes.

Specific target groups, namely rural workers and non-rural populations, also received very little attention from research.

Combined with the gap in investigating the risks to urban and rural populations to nutrition-related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, this led authors to question whether research was being directed at the poorest, most-needy populations.

Finally, the report highlighted a lack of recognised metrics and methodologies to guide research linking agriculture to nutrition.

But the report highlighted an "enormous surge" in interest in the field, Corinna Hawkes, an affiliate of the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) and an author of the report, told SciDev.Net.

"By showing what is going on at the moment, it [the report] can really engage researchers and the donor community to translate research into action", she said.

However, Kedar Rai, principal scientist at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) felt that it was ignorance of the link between agriculture and nutrition among policymakers, not researchers, that was the main problem.

He said a sustained advocacy campaign was essential to bring this issue to the attention of governments.

Hawkes admitted that progress would ultimately be determined by political involvement, and said that although the report may not influence policymakers, it was an important first step for invigorating the research community.

Link to full report [1.08MB]