Production and processing of foods as core aspects of nutrition-sensitive agriculture and sustainable diets
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Some forms of malnutrition are partly due to agriculture not having nutrient outputs as an explicit goal. A better understanding of what is required from agricultural production and food processing for healthy and sustainable diets is needed. Besides nutritional quality or nutrient output, important factors are: water, soil, health hazards, agrobiodiversity and seasonality. Therefore, possible interactions among constituents of the food chain – human health, the environment, knowledge and education – should be considered from a systemic perspective. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture needs to consider and understand the role of biodiversity in improving dietary quality and dietary diversity as well as seasonality in food supply. Apart from improving agricultural systems in order to close the nutrition gap, efficient storage and food processing technologies to prolong shelf-life are required. If processing is poor, high food losses can cause food insecurity or increase the risk of producing unsafe and unhealthy food. Food storage and processing technologies, particularly at household level, are challenging and often not applicable to traditional crops. In order to achieve the aims of nutrition-sensitive agriculture, it is necessary to comprehend its complexity and the factors that influence it. This will require a trans-disciplinary approach, which will include the three sectors agriculture, nutrition and health at research, extension and political levels. Ensuring that farmers are knowledgeable about production systems, which sustainably provide adequate amounts of nutritious food while conserving the environment is an essential part of nutrition-sensitive agriculture. At the same time, for the benefits of nutrition-sensitive agriculture to be realized, educated consumers are required who understand what constitutes a healthy and sustainable diet.
KeywordsDietary diversity Crop diversity Food processing Sustainable diets Trans-disciplinarity Agrobiodiversity
The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge the Food Security Center of the University of Hohenheim who facilitated and supported this study both financially and through giving scientific guidance, especially Dr. Detlef Virchow and Dr. Hannah Jaenicke. Many thanks go to Chiara Mecagni for her input in the English editing.
Dietary diversity is a qualitative measure of food consumption that reflects household access to a variety of foods, and is also a proxy for nutrient adequacy of the diet of individuals. The dietary diversity scores described in the FAO guidelines consist of a simple count of food groups that a household or an individual has consumed over the preceding 24 h (FAO 2011).
As stated in the FAO/WHO guidelines on food fortification with micronutrients “food fortification is usually regarded as the deliberate addition of one or more micronutrients to particular foods, so as to increase the intake of these micronutrient(s) in order to correct or prevent a demonstrated deficiency and provide a health benefit” (Allen et al. 2006).
Food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. (FAO 1998).
This definition was supplemented by adding the following: The four pillars of food security are availability, access, utilization and stability which are integral to the concept of food security [CFS: 2009/2 Rev. 2] (FAO 2012c).
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger globally and by region and country. Calculated each year by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the GHI highlights successes and failures in hunger reduction and provides insights into the drivers of hunger. To reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger, the GHI combines three equally weighted indicators in one index:
• Undernourishment: the proportion of undernourished people as a percentage of the population (reflecting the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake)
• Child underweight: the proportion of children younger than age five who are underweight (that is, have low weight for their age, reflecting wasting, stunted growth, or both), which is one indicator of child undernutrition
• Child mortality: the mortality rate of children younger than age five (partially reflecting the fatal synergy of inadequate caloric intake and unhealthy environments) (IFPRI 2012).
Micronutrient malnutrition or vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can compromise growth, immune function, cognitive development, and reproductive and work capacity. (World Bank 2013)
The nutritional functional diversity metric is based on plant species composition on farm and the nutritional composition of these plants for 17 nutrients that are key in human diets and for which reliable plant composition data are available. This metric can be used to summarize and compare the diversity of nutrients provided by farms. The nutritional functional diversity value increases when a species with a unique combination of nutrients is added to a community and decreases when such a species is lost (Remans et al. 2011).
The nutritional status of a person can be measured by different methods, such as anthropometry, biochemical and clinical assessment, and dietary intake methods. Anthropometry is the method commonly used. It can be defined as the measurement of physical dimensions and gross composition of the human body. The nutritional status of a person alone does not indicate the causes of this status (FAO 2012c).
As the term “food security” evolved, the term “nutrition security” emerged in the mid-1990s. Nutrition security focuses on food consumption by the household or the individual and on how that food is utilized by the body. Building on UNICEF’s Conceptual Framework, IFPRI proposed the following definition in 1995: “Nutrition security can be defined as adequate nutritional status in terms of protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals for all household members at all times”.
In 2006, the World Bank published a book on Repositioning Nutrition as Central to Development. It gives the following more elaborate definition of nutrition security: “Nutrition security exists when food security is combined with a sanitary environment, adequate health services, and proper care and feeding practices to ensure a healthy life for all household members.” This same definition of nutrition security is also used by WHO in its forthcoming report of the Global Nutrition Policy.
In an effort to focus attention on the point that nutrition security is only achieved when individuals actually consume the food they need rather than simply having access to it (as in the currently accepted definition of food security), FAO has developed the following draft formulation: “Nutrition security exists when all people at all times consume food of sufficient quantity and quality in terms of variety, diversity, nutrient content and safety to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life, coupled with a sanitary environment, adequate health, education and care” (FAO 2012c).
Recommended dietary allowance refers to the intake level that meets the daily nutrient requirements of almost all (97 to 98 %) of the individuals in a specific life-stage and sex group (Gibson 2005).
The triple burden of malnutrition consists of 1) insufficient intake of dietary energy and protein resulting in hunger, reduced learning ability, diseases and premature death, 2) micronutrient deficiencies causing physical and cognitive deficits, anemia, blindness and reduced resistance to a variety of health risks, and 3) excess intake of dietary energy resulting in overweight, obesity and chronic diseases. It continues to be a very serious set of global public health problems and an important contributor to slow economic growth, widespread poverty and high rates of morbidity and mortality in most developing countries (Herforth et al. 2012).
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