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Blog Post
2 October 2013

Reporting from Global Food Security Conference – Wonders and Wondering about Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture

Photo courtesy of Gates Foundation via flickr

Photo courtesy of Gates Foundation via Flickr

Reporting back from Melinda Sundell in The Netherlands!

Nutrition, waste and truth in labeling.
Most food products fall under some kind of “truth in labeling” law, would it be that there could be a similar law for seminar presentations! I have now inadvertently attended a number of ag. economics seminars: repackaging production functions to look like philosophical approaches to food security. Notwithstanding this false labeling, I have gleaned a few important kernels of insight from these:

  • On-farm losses are higher on farms producing for the market than on those producing for own consumption
  • Farmer perception of on-farm loss is usually lower than more “objective” measurements
  • Market-led value chain approaches do not serve poor households; more attention should be paid to safety nets.
  • Many subsistence farmers in Africa are so busy selling their own labor that they have little time to work on their own plots
  • Increasing grain productivity is second on the to-do list of policy makers trying to increase food production. Activity number one should be value-addition of the current production, assuring that processing infrastructure is in place and quality is adequate to compete with imported grains.

But the really useful insights from this conference (for me) are in the fields of Nutrition and Waste.

Recycling taken to its ultimate level: using industrial waste to feed insects which are then used as feed for animals. Having lived for a number of years in southern Africa, I am not surprised that two of the most dynamic presentations I have seen at the conference have been made by two South African ladies. I referred to the excellent work on urban agriculture (and then both implementing and researching it!) in my blog yesterday. Today I would like to highlight the raising of insects on industrial waste as animal feed—WIN WIN WIN WIN! This is a project which makes sense in a world where we need to intensify agricultural production, but have few possibilities to expand cultivated land.

This research, being carried out in an APP (AcademicPrivatePartnership) has explored the gamut of possible insects (mostly flies and beetles) and feedstocks (abbatoir waste, food service and catering waste, manure, human fecal waste) and come up with a number of solutions ranging from the large scale robotic to shovel and bucket technology. Once all of us get over our initial “yuck”reactions, this is a brilliantly simple solution—why waste resources on growing human food (soy and maize) for animals when they can thrive on feed sources we are not hungry enough yet to be interested in.

Nutrition insights:
Many presenters are using variations of a triumvirate analytical model called FOOD CARE HEALTH to explain how the factors which should be included in planning nutrition programs. (This model was first developed 30 years ago by Björn Ljungkvist)  FOOD is obviously supply; CARE is primarily information and HEALTH relates to water and sanitation.

Those promoting “nutrition-sensitive agriculture” leave those of us trained in agricultural production wondering where we are going to fit in profit or even resource use maximization.  So far the health aspects of food seem to be dealt with by the marketing rather than the production units of the value chains. Interestingly, the answer to integrating nutrition concerns may be found in the emerging landscape approach. We were treated to an introduction of the concept of “eco-nutritional landscape” which many of us should explore further.

Some interesting insights gleaned from various nutrition-related presentations include:

  • 51 nutrients are needed for human development, single nutrient approaches are acceptable in crisis situations, but this will not be the solution.
  • Copenhagen Consensus Report (2012) puts nutrition as the number one factor to promote development
  • Fetal programming also means that supplemental feeding of underweight babies actually dooms them to more non-communicable diseases later in life.

Read Melinda’s Blog from Day 1 and Day 2 here!

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