Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Mending the broken link: Agriculture and Health Nexus


For the Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium 2013

One of the panelist: Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro,
“Finally! Finally! Finally! ” Cries a woman. “Nutrition is now part of Food security discussions “ She continues. 

Later on we come to discover she is no other than Prof Ruth Oniang one of the panelist at the Agriculture and health nexus discussion panel at the Chicago Council Global Food security symposium 2013 and a founding CEO of Rural outreach Africa and African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development; . Other panelists included:


Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the co-director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology and associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School; and associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. He also doubled as the moderator.

Dr. Subbanna Ayyappan, secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education, Government of India; director general, The Indian Council of Agricultural Research

Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro, chief agricultural officer, Mars, Inc.; senior fellow, plant sciences, University of California, Davis; distinguished fellow, World Agroforestry Centre

How many times has the thought of nutrition crossed your mind while enjoying that sumptuous meal over dinner, lunch or breakfast? Have you ever thought of where you would get those vitamins you badly need if the smallholders farmers in the world went on a strike say for a day, or for a week? 

These are just some of the many questions that arose in the on the Agriculture and the Health nexus discussion whose aim was to provide new thinking on how current agricultural activities could interplay with health and nutrition objectives.

Earlier on, Rajiv shah, the USAID administrator in his address noted that to end hunger effectively, people need to work from farm to market to table. High nutrient levels are needed at all these stages the produce passes be it in production, processing and finally consumption. This brings to fore the interrelatedness of food security and nutrition security. There cannot exist one without the other.

Sharing her experiences working amongst rural women in Kenya, Prof Ruth noted that if we have to build a solid foundation on nutrition security, then we need to empower women as they are the majority of smallholder farmers and hence determine what is consumed. Being decision makers ,its becomes important for them to know that having or growing  food is not enough rather focus should be on growing and consumption of  nutrient rich food. She pointed out critical issues ailing nutrition security the likes of gender mainstreaming, lack of funding, food insecurity at the household level and a case of aging agricultural scientists with no young people to replaced. She feared for Africa’s case being like Guatemala‘s where for every one hundred agricultural scientists they had, only eight are left. Tackling these setbacks could possibly set Africa as the global food basket in the near future.

“Africa might be looking like this abandoned child but she might feed the whole world in the near future” she optimistically stated

Dr. Mozaffarian emphasized that as we align ourselves in the nutritional security thinking, we need to keep in mind the core goals of nutrition, which are reducing malnutrition and under nutrition. Across the globe, approximately 2 billion people lack access to nutrients needed for their bodies to healthy. Every five minutes a child dies from hunger related diseases.

“We need to have a global view of health from utero to the elderly” emphasized Dr. Mozaffarian

On the other hand, Dr Shapiro stressed on the importance of knowledge sharing. He called out to private organizations to make nutrition segments of plant genes public so crops can be improved through research leading to better and nutrient full varieties.

“It was right to go after agricultural productivity early on, but now have to shift from calories to nutrient-dense foods” he insisted.

Dr Ayyappan shared his insights on dietary changes and the resultant ailments in India. He shared his views of encouraging gardening in both schools and at homes as a way of promoting food security and hence subsequently improving nutrition. 

Summing up the discussion, Dr Shapiro acknowledged his shock at the optimism expressed at the symposium and stated that feeding the world is indeed a huge challenge.

Do you think so?