Stories tagged: GAIN

Marc Van Ameringen: Adopting a Fully Integrated Food System Approach to Improve Nutrition

In this guest post, Marc Van Ameringen, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), details ways nutrition can be integrated into sustainable food systems in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. GAIN will be presenting at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture, in Abu Dhabi on 16-17th February 2016.

Significant progress has been made over the last decade toward improving food and nutrition security. Nonetheless, the burden of undernutrition still affects 795 million people and more than 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese.

With the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, however, there is a growing recognition that good nutrition underpins the achievement of almost every development goal. In particular, SDG 2 offers the opportunity to align efforts between all stakeholders involved toward ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

To achieve these ambitious goals, we can no longer work in silos: we must look at the whole agricultural value chain to build more sustainable and nutritious food systems. From seeds and soil through to harvest and post-harvest, and culminating in the moment that food reaches the consumer’s mouth, we have the opportunity to reform our precarious and unhealthy food system and put nutrition at its core.

sprinkle family

Family eating nutritious foods in Kenya (GAIN)


Starting with seeds

Starting from the beginning of the value chain, seeds offer various ways to improve the nutritional quality of diets. One of the most effective is breeding new nutrients directly into seeds. This process, known as biofortification, was first developed in the 1990s by the Food Economist Howarth Bouis – who then founded HarvestPlus – to address the issue of hidden hunger and provide people with the essential vitamins and minerals they need in their diets. Breeding micronutrients directly into staple foods was considered a sustainable and inexpensive solution, especially for the poorest people. Despite some challenges, mostly related to product delivery and the need to build demand among consumers for these fortified staples, biofortification has been adopted by several African countries, including Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.

Improving soil health

Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production. Hence, the quality of soil can have a negative impact on the crops grown in it. For instance, soils can be contaminated by Aflatoxins, dangerous toxins, produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus, which infect peanuts, maize and other crops. The Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), an initiative of the African Union, aims to free Africa from the harmful effects of Aflatoxins by promoting coordination across different initiatives, acting as a catalyst for partnerships and providing financial resources. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PACA is working to scale up the production of Aflasafe, a bio-control product that ‘pushes out’ harmful, toxin-producing strains of A. flavus from the field through the deliberate introduction of non-toxic, harmless strains of the same fungus – a process known as ‘competitive exclusion’. The Aflasafe has proven to be highly effective: field tests in Nigeria between 2009 and 2012 showed that use of this product consistently reduced aflatoxin contamination in maize and groundnut crops by 80-90%.

Combatting post-harvest waste

Moving down the agriculture value chain, post-harvest loss presents formidable food security and climate challenges. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, over 50% of fresh fruits and vegetables produced are lost or wasted, with nearly half of these losses occurring during post-harvest processes. The losses, happening in the middle of the supply chain, are largely due to the absence of functional storage and cooling facilities. A potential solution to reduce post-harvest loss is the introduction of appropriate crating and packaging of perishable foods as they travel from the field to retail. Innovations in the cold chain, or temperature-controlled supply chains can perhaps have the single largest effect on the availability of nutritious diets. However, cold chains are reliant on electricity or diesel, which are expensive or inconsistently available in many of these countries. Investing and scaling up innovative green cold chain technologies will therefore be essential to build sustainable nutritious agricultural food systems. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), together with the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA), are working toward achieving this goal by connecting global industry leaders in nutritious food cooling with sister companies in the developing world to provide technical assistance and inputs to strengthen nutritious crop cooling and cold chains, packaging and crating and to move processing and storage closer to production fields.

View from a village market, one of the most effective place to improve diets and promote dietary diversity. (GAIN)

View from a village market, one of the most effective place to improve diets and promote dietary diversity. (GAIN)

Bringing healthy foods to market

At the end of the value chain, we find the consumers. In an increasingly urbanized world, the urban poor and families make choices based on what is available in the market at affordable prices and even poor rural famers are net purchasers of food. Cruelly, these farmers are also some of the world’s most undernourished. According to the World Bank, consumers at the Bottom of the Pyramid, both rural and urban, spend $3.5 trillion on food every year and this is expected to grow. In this context, harnessing the role of markets and catalysing small and middle-sized enterprises is vital to improve nutrition. GAIN, with support from USAID and the Feeding the Future Initiative, created the Marketplace for Nutritious Foods, a program designed to foster innovation and support promising businesses that produce heathy, safe and affordable food for low income consumers. Supporting entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, is critical to ensure the success of their businesses and improve dietary diversity. Initially launched in four East African countries, GAIN’s marketplace is currently supporting 37 companies with small grants and technical assistance. In two years, the Marketplace companies have succeeded in making over 7 million portions of new nutritious food available in the market.

Especially in light of emerging challenges like climate change and rapid urbanization, we need nutrition driven food systems that deliver, while ensuring sustainable use of planet’s resources. Showing evidence of what works and driving new partnerships that attract public and private investment for these solutions is essential. And more importantly, let’s not focus on agriculture alone: let’s adopt a fully integrated food system approach, which includes health and nutrition, to feed a growing global population with the affordable and nutritious foods it needs.

For further reading on this topic, read the GAIN snapshot report Cultivating Nutritious Food Systems 


Reflections on the G8: Taking the Initiative on Commitments to Tackle Nutrition

Over the last few weeks, Farming First has been following G8 discussions, providing updates across our blog and Twitter feed.  The landmark “Hunger Summit” saw world leaders pledge $4bn to combat child malnutrition.

This pledge was one of – if not the – greatest achievements of this year’s G8 summit, whose legacy has been to firmly place tackling levels of malnutrition on the global political agenda. Whilst addressing hunger has long been the key focus of issues surrounding food security, tackling the “hidden hunger” of malnutrition has been increasingly recognised as central to the wider food security challenge.

The UN estimates that there are 870 million undernourished people in the world, meaning that one in eight people do not get enough food to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. Malnutrition causes stunting in children, affecting their physical and mental development.

On top of this, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) recently discovered that poor nutrition correlates to a loss of up to 10% of GDP for developing economies in Asia and Africa. Evidently, malnutrition has a significant impact on the growth of developing countries both in terms of the health of the population and the ability for economies to expand.

Moving forward, it will be the role of people and organisations at all levels – from governments, NGOs, business and community leaders – to build on discussions around hunger and malnutrition at the G8 to overcome of the world’s most harrowing problems.

Farming First has been collecting the views from a range of organisations on the role that agriculture will play in addressing hunger and malnutrition. Marc Van Ameringen, Executive Director at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) spoke to Farming First TV about the growing acknowledgment of nutrition in development discussions:

Finally people are starting to pay attention [to the issue of nutrition]…now we’re not just talking about food security, we’re talking about food and nutrition security. This shifts the discussion, where we’re not just talking about how do you grow more, and grow it sustainably, but how do you make sure it’s addressing some of the key nutritional challenges like hunger, micro-nutrient deficiency, stunting, as well as being over-weight and obesity.”

Agriculture has a key role to play in the fight against malnutrition and innovative solutions are already in action around the world to help find solutions. Last week, Farming First launched our unique “Food and Nutrition Security Interactive Map” which highlights the work of leading global and regional initiatives in action. All over the world, agriculture is already leading the way in facing this great challenge.

Farming First member IFA recently launched an infographic that illustrates how fertilising crops can improve human health. The infographic highlights that less than 20% of agricultural production growth by 2050 will come from land expansion and that 55-85% of soils are deficient in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, demonstrating that fertilisers are essential for more food, better nutrition and healthier lives.

Biofortification is also an essential part of the solution to ending the worldwide devastation caused by malnutrition. Ensuring that staple crops are bred to increase their nutritional value not only provides the world with more nutritious food but it also eliminates the fortification process further along the supply chain, so that smallholders have access to safe and healthy food straight from the farm.

Returning farmers to the centre of decision-making will be imperative if we are to effectively build on this commitment and create effective collaborations. In building on these important steps in tackling food and nutrition security, Farming First urges policy makers to:

  1. promote a clear joint focus on a common goal for food security at the global level through policy and operational coherence
  2. encourage increased transparency on how much of pledged funding has been committed and to what types of programmes
  3. engage a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that efforts are coordinated, clear, collaborative and ultimately successful.

To read more about our work surrounding Food and Nutrition security, please click here


Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition Promotes Food Fortification

Food fortification, which adds essential vitamins and minerals to foods, is an important strategy to fight malnutrition. The cost of food fortification to reduce widespread malnutrition can be as low as a few cents per individual per year for adding iodine to salt, and up to US$ 0.25 for more complex vitamins and minerals.

GAIN, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, supports public-private partnerships that are working to improve access to the missing nutrients in diets necessary for people to be stronger and healthier. Last month, GAIN launched a new major multi-sectoral partnership to provide vitamin A fortified vegetable oil to Indonesians that will reach over 80 percent of the population. GAIN will commit a US$ 3.5 million grant over the next 5 years to support oil refineries with the necessary equipment and training to produce fortified unbranded vegetable oil. In Indonesia, 40 percent of children under 5 years old are stunted (low height for age). One  in  five  pre-school  age  children  in  Indonesia  are  deficient  in  vitamin  A.

Set up in 2002 at a special session of the UN General Assembly on Children, GAIN has worked alongside more than 600 companies across 36 large-scale collaborations in more than 25 countries, reaching close to 400 million people with nutritionally enhanced food products. GAIN partners with business, governments, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, academia and other key players in the nutrition sector to deliver programs to vulnerable populations as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Targeted programmes deliver fortified food products including complementary foods and supplements to vulnerable population groups, including a premix; a commercially prepared blend of vitamins and minerals used to fortify staple foods.

GAIN is also part of international multi-sectoral initiatives that support countries in implementing policies for better nutrition such as the Flour Fortification Initiative, working to make flour fortification (involving iron, folic acid, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin A) a standard milling practice and also the Iodine Network, supporting universal salt iodization to eliminate iodine deficiency that is an easily preventable cause of mental retardation.