Agriculture remains the most important sector to provide both food and a livelihood to the majority of the people, also in Ethiopia. With the current ongoing reforms, the Government includes natural resources, crops, livestock and fisheries in the portfolio of the Ministry of Agriculture, all providing a wealth of opportunities to produce nutritious foods and income, not only for the producers but for all involved in the entire chain until the consumer. Now, climate change has been threatening agriculture production for some years now, as the weather is changing and becoming more unpredictable as we see more frequent droughts, heaver rains, higher temperatures and so on. Adjusting ourselves to the changing environment, techniques and approaches are being developed into so called climate smart agriculture. Drought resistant crops are being developed and used, while we also see a shift in suitability for certain types of agriculture. Indeed, threats but also opportunities are presenting themselves.
All along the emphasis in agriculture seems to have been on producing more food and providing some measure of food security. But even though the world and this country produce enough food to feed all, that does not necessarily mean that all mouths are fed, leave alone they are fed with nutritious food. More often than not people eat foods that provide energy, less though foods that contain highly required micronutrients and vitamins. Enter the current emphasis on nutrition-sensitive agriculture, essential to help fight malnutrition and stunting as it puts nutritionally rich foods, dietary diversity, and food fortification at the heart of overcoming malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture brings a variety of foods onto the market, recognizing the nutritional value of food for good nutrition, and the importance and social significance of the food and agricultural sector for supporting rural livelihoods. Food systems will thus be better equipped to produce good nutritional outcomes. To properly address the problem of malnutrition, interventions are needed throughout the entire food system, from production to processing, transport, consumption and waste management. Improvements will also be needed in complementary sectors such as health, education, water and sanitation to eliminate the spread of infectious diseases and to share knowledge on successful nutrition practices. Government integrates nutrition-sensitive strategies into agricultural development policies to ensure nutrition sensitive programs are funded and implemented, while cross-sectoral coordination is essential for sustainable, comprehensive advancements in eliminating malnutrition. Increasing nutrition-sensitive agricultural production, makes more nutritious food available and affordable, which improves both the health and the economic status of the community. Also, promoting sustainable production practices like conservation agriculture, water management and integrated pest management can improve nutrition levels without depleting natural resources. Family farming, home gardens and homestead food production projects can make a wider variety of crops available at the local level. Also, micronutrient content in foods can be enhanced through processing, plant breeding and improved soil fertility. In addition to changes in the agriculture sector, government can promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture by incorporating nutrition-sensitive concepts into relevant farm policies and programs.
A nutrition-sensitive approach can contribute to physiological, mental and social development, enhance learning potential, reduce nutritional disorders and contribute to the prevention of diet-related diseases later in life. An holistic approach, as emphasised by the Government, incorporating explicit nutrition objectives into agriculture, health, education, economic and social protection policies, is essential in pushing malnutrition back.
Now, both Government and development partners are aware of the importance of applying nutrition-sensitive agriculture.and the Government developed a nutrition-sensitive strategy two years ago. The below is quoted from the introduction of that strategy, derived from which I can see many opportunities for farmers and the private sector engaged in agriculture.
“The problem of food and nutrition security remains the main health and development issue for the country. The prevalence of stunting among children 6-59 months old is 40% and the prevalence of wasting and underweight is recorded to be 9% and 27% respectively. Micronutrients deficiency is also pervasive and severe in the country. About 44% of under five children, 30% of adolescents, 22% of pregnant women, 17% of women of reproductive age are anaemic. Consumption of minimum acceptable diet by children is only 4 % which is very high when compared to other sub-Saharan countries (EDHS 2014). This puts Ethiopia among the countries with high malnutrition burdens.
Considering that about 84% of Ethiopians live in rural areas and are primarily engaged in agricultural activities, initiating and strengthening Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture (NSA) in the agriculture sector is critical. NSA aims to maximize the positive impact of the food system on nutrition outcomes while minimizing any unintended, negative consequences of agricultural policies and interventions for the population. It is a food and nutrition-based approach to agricultural development that focused on year-round availability, access and consumption of diverse, safe and nutritious foods and sustainable agricultural systems at the heart of overcoming malnutrition and its consequences.”
Who takes the opportunity?