Public and private actions

What public and private actions are needed to strengthen the impacts of agri-food value chains on nutrition?

Photo credit: M. DeFreese/CIMMYT

Beyond the farmgate

Many agricultural investments aimed at boosting productivity and the incomes of farm households are undertaken in the context of the broader agri-food value chain. It is recognised that the impact and sustainability of such investments depends on integrating producers into value chains beyond the farm-gate.  At the same time, value chain links beyond the farm dictate the availability and prices of food products. This influences the diets of the wider population, and is thus critical to off-farm nutrition. In most cases, however, little consideration is given to such potential nutritional impacts, and whether value chains can deliver nutritious food to people who are undernourished or nutritionally-deficient. 

Considering nutritional impacts for consumers

Understanding how value chains operate is critical to establishing effective connections between agriculture and nutrition. This leads to the question of how the functioning of value chains can be enhanced for greater nutritional impact. The focus of this research is on value chain-based interventions, and their scope for enhancing the connection between agriculture and nutrition. Here the primary focus is on the nutrition of individuals in off-farm households, including the landless in rural areas and the urban poor.

Agri-food value chains are restructuring across South Asia. This evolution of markets for nutritious foods has tended to focus on middle or high-income consumers. Thus, the poor often struggle to gain access to nutritious foods, because for example they are not available in areas where they live or work. Also they are often prohibitively priced. Indeed, the ways in which nutritious foods are developed, produced, distributed and marketed is often not attuned to the economic and social circumstances of the poor.

A model we have developed during LANSA illustrates the potential policy interventions points in the food chain which might meet the needs of the poor. This is depicted as a cycle rather than in a linear way, in order to emphasise the demand for nutrient requirements which drives food production, firm strategy, the business environment, the distribution systems and the consumption of nutritious foods by vulnerable population groups.

Source: Maestre, Poole and Henson (2017)

Examining the food value chain

Identifying the most effective ways in which to enhance access to nutritious food by the poor requires that the entire food chain is examined, from a value chain perspective. This research sub-theme has addressed the following questions:

  • Through what channels do (or might) nutritious foods move from agriculture to poor consumers?
  • Who are the key actors that drive the development and/or operation of such value chains?
  • What constraints are faced in the development and/or operation of such value chains?
  • What interventions and policies encourage or enable such value chains to develop and thrive?
  • How can such interventions and policies be promoted?

In addressing these questions we put specific focus on the role of the private sector, as well as the broader institutional and policy environment in which these value chains operate.  Thus, there can be significant variation in the nature of agri-food value chains, and their efficacy at making nutritious foods more accessible to poor consumers, across countries (and regions within countries), agricultural commodities and food products.

The range of agri-food value chains extends from short chains serving local markets to long ones moving food to urban areas, and from highly fragmented, informal chains to chains with a high degree of vertical coordination. In turn, the interventions and policy actions needed to enhance the working of these value chains will differ.

A series of specific studies have formed part of this work:

A review and comparative analysis of agri-food value chain-based interventions. This has been harmonised, as far as feasible, with our landscaping and mapping activities in enabling environment for nutrition.

A series of value chain-based studies have been undertaken using a common conceptual framework (Maestre, Poole and Henson, 2017). Studies were undertaken in each of the four LANSA countries, and cases from each country have been published in a Special Issue of the IDS Bulletin. The issue reports the supply and demand side of the agri-food value chains and explores the value chain pathways that deliver foods to vulnerable populations and the role for stakeholders in making these value chains more effective. We comment on what works and what does not work, offer policy recommendations and suggest a new agenda for research in South Asia.

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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