Aiming research to influence policy process

The LANSA ‘Research-to-Policy’ consultation brought together a varied set of agriculture-nutrition stakeholders to discuss research evidence under the programme in India. 

The event took place at MSSRF, Chennai on February 24, witnessing officials from Agriculture Department, Fisheries Department, Department of Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), representations from National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), IamWarm project, and several agriculture and nutrition scientists, academics, researchers, and doctorate scholars.

LANSA organised the Consultation to reach out to a broad range of stakeholders in a bid to showcase research results from India studies undertaken in Pillar 1. Participation was highly spirited and contributions came from all quarters on how LANSA’s evidence could contribute to influencing policy and practice in agriculture thus promoting the nutrition agenda in the country.  

Prakash Shetty, CEO LANSA welcomed with opening remarks on LANSA’s role in India and the region, going on to explain that the  programme includes evidence review, landscaping activities, empirical research studies, as well as intervention trials that look at feasibility of agriculture to improve nutrition among the people in this region. He emphasised that despite economic growth and agricultural production, India has the largest number of under nourished people in the world, both stunted and underweight. LANSA aims to thus leverage agricultural techniques and methods and use the whole sphere of agricultural activities to improve nutrition, he observed.

Brinda Viswanathan, Associate Professor - Madras School of Economics, Chennai presented the MSSRF study results from the paper 'Policy Inputs from the study of Women’s BMI across Indian Farm Households'. Evidence on agriculture-nutrition linkage is weak, she said, but conceptually there are several channels that connect the two. Increased food intake from own production, increased incomes from diversification into higher value crops, including: horticulture, or livestock rearing, reducing inequities in resource ownership like land or improved access to irrigation and/or credit across socially disadvantaged groups, including women, would feed back into increasing agricultural growth and productivity. Brinda informed that additional pathways are behavioural in nature, as in the case of women’s time allocation that would influence feeding and care practices.

Focus in this study was an attempt to connect agricultural production diversity to dietary diversity at the household level, and then to link dietary diversity to women’s Body Mass Index (BMI), as well as several non-food components that could affect nutrition absorption. By studying women’s BMI, the research looked at the individual as the final unit of analysis rather than a household, enabling observation on the impact of woman’s empowerment in influencing her own nutritional status - an area of immense importance in the South Asian context. Finally, the study also contributes to the evidence on adult nutrition, which is not so researched in India as much child nutrition.

Concluding that the nature of information in the database limits a more nuanced assessment, Brinda acknowledged that there is also clear evidence of crop production diversity and livestock ownership on dietary diversity.

Swarna S Vepa, Honorary Visiting Professor - Madras School of Economics, Chennai presented next with insights from MSSRF research and implications to policy. She emphasised that the aim of the research was to explore agriculture-nutrition linkages in the Indian context, the role of women in improving child nutrition and role of public provisioning.

Major conclusions illustrated that there are strong links between agriculture and nutritional outcomes in India, women’s role in improving child health, and public provisioning of staple food, safe water, and sanitation and health facilities making a huge impact. The weak links are: agricultural worker productivity has a weaker link to nutrition; women’s work participation has a weaker link to child nutrition; public provisioning of food, water, and health facilities show weaker linkages child nutrition; and weakness of association or non-existent association.

Findings from the LCIRAH paper by Bhavani Shankar who leads LANSA research on Pillar 2.1, on 'What explains the observed heterogeneity in nutrition outcomes across states in India?', which looked at comparing child nutrition performances in successful and not-so-successful Indian states. Prakash summarised results to questions on ‘What drives the large disparities in height-for-age distributions among Indian states - variation in observed nutrition-related endowments, such as wealth or maternal education, or differential strengths of relationships across states between endowments and height-for-age?’

An open discussion opportunity followed wherein participants looked at how LANSA research evidence could be used to support policy decisions in India. Moderated by Prakash Shetty, many interesting and insightful contributions formed an interested discussion over the next hour.

The importance of including millets in the diet to improve nutrition came out strongly, and the Additional Director, Tamil Nadu State Agriculture Department - Sendamarai IAS spoke of the need to meet the demand for pulses. She also wanted to understand what “shortfalls have been identified to address nutritional requirements” and cropping pattern changes recommended by MSSRF for Tamil Nadu to meet protein issues for women and children since the State is experiencing a shortfall in the production of pulses.

There were suggestions on how LANSA could impact the State Action Plans, and procurement policies, also look at other good practices from Indian states and policies that influence dietary diversity. Prof Swaminathan, in his concluding remarks summed up the proceedings and reiterated the importance for research to reach policy. 

Sangeetha Rajeesh and Christy Raja E
Monday, February 29, 2016

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South Asia Focus

Funded by UK DFID

This research has been funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK Government’s official policies

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