Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity

The International Union of Nutritional Sciences turns to food systems

31 Oct 2017

This year's IUNS zoomed in on food systems and the links between nutrition and agriculture, taking on a more holistic approach at tackling malnutrition. Bioversity International actively participated presenting research and co-organizing a symposium.  

The International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) has generally been a more traditional nutrition conference focusing on nutrients, supplementation and diets. This is the first year that it dedicated space for sharing innovations and work related to the linkages between nutrition and agriculture. In particular, we saw a huge shift in the topics of symposia and lectures that allowed for the discourse of food systems, highlighting the holistic approach that is needed to tackle global malnutrition. Ultra-processed foods also held a particular spotlight, with lively debates and discussion about how to categorise them, and the building evidence surrounding their consumption and negative diet and health outcomes.

Currently, nutrition programmes tend to target women of reproductive age and children within the first 1000 days window. IUNS saw a shifting dialogue towards a new focus targeting adolescent groups, and in particular, teenage girls. Data is often lacking for this group, which are still vulnerable given they are in their final developmental phases, and in particular for young women, for whom such interventions could aim to provide pre-natal care to improve both maternal and child nutrition.

Within the scope of this new interest in food systems, three of Bioversity International’s scientific staff were invited to present on their project results related to agrobiodiversity and nutrition. 

Gina Kennedy presented on the Nutrition Sensitive Landscape Framework, and how looking at the nutritional capacity of the landscape provides an innovative and unique opportunity to improve diet quality.

Beatrice Ekesa, talked about how including vitamin A rich banana varieties in complementary foods for young children can increase diet quality in Uganda.

And, Jessica Raneri presented preliminary results from the cluster randomized control trial that demonstrated how the promotion of local agrobiodiversity can create incentives to diversify production and diets.

Contributing to this stream, Bioversity International, together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which are collectively known as the Rome-based Agencies – RBAs, organized a symposium From Sustainable Farms to Better Nutrition: Linking Commitments to Research, Policy and Practice

There are currently many emerging opportunities in the global agenda with an unprecedented political commitment to nutrition and role of food systems, explained Charlotte Dufour (FAO). 

Nancy Aburto from WFP then summarized the different tools developed by the RBAs that can help with assessments to build evidence of nutrition-sensitive agriculture impacts, showing the importance of multi-sectoral and cross-agency collaboration. Moreover, in order to have a nutrition-sensitive project, continued IFAD’s Juliane Friedrich, specific nutrition objectives, indicators and activities that will actually improve diets or nutrition are necessary. And, James Garret, Bioversity International, highlighted that if we want to operationalize multi-sectoral approaches for better nutrition, efforts need to happen at the same time, at the same place, with the same child. He provided an example using the nutrition-sensitive value chains approach, which can enable multiple leverage points for improving nutrition, simply by applying a nutrition lens to a normal value chain approach. One way would be to ask ‘are we producing a more nutritious variety of the crop?’.

Bioversity International’s Dr Gina Kennedy discussed how in the past, there has been a lack of evidence on how agricultural biodiversity can improve nutrition. A recent publication, Compendium of Actions for Nutrition, has summarized the current state of evidence on interventions and their impacts on diet quality. Though we may find ourselves in the grey zone when we don’t know the evidence base, Gina challenges us to contemplate what the cost of inaction is compared to any potential harm if action is taken.

More information on this symposium is available here.

This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.  

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Photo: Food system chart from presentation by Gina Kennedy (Bioversity International), From Sustainable Farms to Better Nutrition symposium.