Discussion Groups

The Knowledge Fair Discussion Groups were held on February 11 and February 12. These discussions were highly informal; they were not chaired and the agenda was set by the group participants. Titles and summary notes for each of the six discussion groups are listed below:

Innovative metrics and tools
Several gaps were identified by delegates in existing indicators for assessing agriculture, nutrition or health, including measurement of the ‘food adequacy’ aspect of nutrition, and intra-household allocation of food. In response, several innovative indicators and methods were suggested, including a rapid assessment dietary diversity indicator, and the comparison of food consumption data at different levels to explore where food security problems exist in different contexts. It was noted that while various tools and indicators may exist, they are not universally known and should be communicated better from researchers/developers to policymakers and program managers in order to encourage harmonization of indicators across sectors and regions, allowing comparison between areas and over time.

In a discussion of tools available to the development community, it was felt that existing surveys (such as the DHS and LSMS) should be added to or modified, rather than scrapped in favor of completely new ideas, with a modular approach taken to adaptation for different needs and contexts. It was noted that strategies would be needed to bridge scales, from community to national-level data and over different time scales. Some specific examples of useful tools were cited, such as integrated homestead food production surveys developed by HKI, and the use of participational tools at community level.

Maternal and child health

The maternal and child health discussion group was a lively group that covered a wide variety of topics, including supplementation, gender and intersectoral collaboration. Many of the participants focused on the role of women in health (and agriculture), emphasizing the need for women’s education and empowerment, in order to strengthen both maternal and child health. In the case of Nepal, a participant highlighted that conflict has led to many women becoming the primary agricultural workers in the household, but that the technology available is male-oriented. The time allocation of women was also noted as something imperative to take into account in understanding maternal and child health.

The need for community-level workers and volunteers was further noted by participants, who highlighted the positive effects of direct service delivery (i.e. health workers visiting homes). One participant emphasized that “not only pills, bottles and cans” need to be focused on, but also habits and good practices in the household in order to improve maternal and child health. In addition, multiple participants explained that “politics matters,” and that while maternal and child health may be given priority under one government, it may be perceived as of low importance in another. Donors may also determine priorities. Overall, participants underscored the need for intersectoral collaboration, multisectoral policies and sensitization to the importance of nutrition for development.

Social exclusion in research and practice

The group began by defining social exclusion as a process through which groups are denied opportunities, such as accessing livelihood options, participating in social networks, or owning assets. Often, this exclusion is based on caste, religion, tribe, gender, age, or environmental and geographical conditions such as terrain, floods, or droughts. These groups may be excluded due to lack of incentives by institutions aiming to invest in research that benefits the maximum number of people. For instance, agricultural research may not benefit specific social groups involved in agriculture in the same way. The group cited the example of India where schedule castes and schedule tribes working as agricultural laborers may not own land because historically these groups were not allowed to own land. Further, these groups may not be able to access input markets in the same way as others involved in the agricultural sector due to social discrimination and existing cultural norms. Thus, policies targeting a specific sector may leave out socially excluded groups. Another reason for exclusion of vulnerable groups is that research tends to generalize problems to the extent that it can ignore issues specific to certain groups. Therefore, research communities need to pay special attention to target beneficiaries. It is critical that these vulnerable groups be involved with the research community. Moreover, these groups need to be included in the research process from the inception stage itself. Impact on recipients of research should be given more importance than academic gains. The group agreed that the nature of social exclusion is such that it demands action-oriented research rather than a pure academic approach. It will vary depending on the characteristics and needs of the vulnerable communities.

Agriculture, nutrition, and health in the African context

Many examples of the successful integration of agriculture, nutrition and health in Africa were cited by delegates, including integrated action and policy research; the provision of nutrition and health services on farms; and programs to address zoonotic disease. Several innovative methods and tools have been developed to address specific concerns in integrated policy and programming, including a harmonized framework for food price data collection in the Sahel; a tool for predicting aflatoxin risk conditions from weather patterns; a pastoralist nutrition survey method; and several frameworks for stakeholder collaboration, community project monitoring, and national-level coordination. Key suggestions for a way forward for Africa in integrated policy and programming included non-partisan national-level coordination mechanisms and financing by both governments and donors; the development and adoption of common, harmonized indicators throughout the region, with a strengthening of communication between the research and implementation communities; and the facilitation of learning from other sectors through use of a ‘health systems approach’. Crop diversification is seen as an existing strategy that naturally combines nutrition and agriculture, and could be a ‘quick win’ for development in Africa.

Agriculture, nutrition, and health in the Asian context

Participants gave several country examples about issues and opportunities in agriculture, health, and nutrition sectors in their country. In Asia, production of food is not a constraint, but access and affordability are. The group mentioned that measuring the level of nutrition in a country needs to be analyzed from the lens of micro-nutrient deficiencies and hidden hunger as well. This is especially relevant for countries like Uzbekistan where malnutrition based on calorific intake is not a key issue, but micronutrient deficiencies are persistent. Tools for monitoring and evaluating projects are lacking in the region and need to be developed for greater impact. While the technical systems for delivering nutrition and health services exist, mechanisms for improving them do not. Institutional arrangements for program delivery generate differences in implementation. For instance, the mid-day meal scheme in India is a national level policy implemented at the state level, which creates differences in the quality and quantity of meals available due to varying state-level capacity and commitment.

Nutrition- and health-responsive agricultural technologies
This group focused on responsible technology, such as water use technology and mixed farming. They brought up their own questions, including opinions surrounding transgenics and biofortification, as well as some projects that they have seen to be successful throughout the world. In particular, one participant noted the use of SRI (system rice intensive fortification); another highlighted the use of intermediate technologies and nurseries in Nepal; and yet another focused on fish farming and nutrition security in India. A nutritionist in the group pointed out that in Bolivia, native plants are grown more for export than for consumption and a few Peruvian participants noted that this is also the case in their country (e.g. with the export of asparagus). These points led into a discussion focused on diversifying eating habits, with a special focus on the marketing of certain foods.

Ag 2 Nutrition Community of Practice February 12 Minutes
The IFPRI conference in New Delhi provided an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting among some members of Agriculture-Nutrition Community of Practice. The Ag-Nut CoP is a virtual community, initiated in July 2010 with the goal of networking and sharing information. Membership has grown from fewer than 20 members at the start to 140 members. Group members organized a side meeting in Delhi to discuss the future of the CoP, taking into account its role to date, other ListServs and networks, and members’ needs.