Experts in international development and business gathered last month to explore how private sector innovation can boost nutrition in the global South.
- John Humphrey, Research Fellow in the Globalisation Team at IDS
- Marc van Ameringen, Executive Director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
- Miguel Pestana, Vice President, Global External Affairs, Unilever
Although under-nutrition is not a new problem, new solutions are being sought by involving the private sector and analysing how value chains (the steps in the journey from inputs through to consumption) can be structured to link agricultural initiatives and nutrition more effectively.
The importance of nutrition
Marc Van Ameringen opened the discussion by explaining the need for improved nutrition in the global South, particular among children and mothers.
Good nutrition in the crucial ‘1000 days’ from conception to 24 months is key to an individual’s long term health, and can be a big challenge if mothers and children have limited access to food. He explained, ‘If you want to tackle malnutrition in a good way, look at how to enrich diets, and look at the whole value chain approach from seed to fork.’
All three speakers agreed that there is an opportunity to intervene through food fortification (i.e. enriching food with micronutrients).
Gap between farm and finger
John Humphrey gave highlights from his recent work with GAIN and USAID on the Feed the Future initiative, which aims to link together small farmers and the private sector to reduce hunger. Partnering for Better Food, the IDS-led project, is developing a rapid assessment tool that will enable donors, governments and executors of agricultural interventions to identify more effectively how more nutritious food can be produced, and how this food can be moved from farms to the groups that most need its nutrient benefits.
The importance of value chains
Marc Van Ameringen highlighted practical ways to use markets to improve nutrition, such as by investing in companies which produce nutritious foods, and by focusing on the challenges of maintaining the goodness of food after it has been harvested. But achieving these goals will involve developing a wide range of incentives to engage the private sector so that innovation is encouraged and the risks of developing new products and strategies is reduced.
A number of participants raised the question of how to ensure food remains nutritious further down the value chain. Speakers highlighted the need for more thought to be put into value chain channels, and the importance of sustaining attractive propositions to companies who are prepared to invest in producing and delivering nutritious food to the undernourished people that most need it.
Miguel Pestana argued that a broader perspective is needed to improve nutritional outcomes in developing countries. He pointed to the problems posed by deficiencies in basic infrastructure – transport and storage capacity – as well as the role of poor sanitation in undernutrition and poor health. Government needs to play a role in bringing ministries together – not just health and agriculture, but also transport for example.