Saturday, 1 October 2016

Plugging the gaps between farm and fork

by Samar Zuberi and Rashid Mehmood

Increased production does not mean improved diets for the undernourished
Photo credit: Flickr/Asian Development Bank

Nutrition has been an increasing concern in Pakistan for almost half a decade. The release of the 2011 National Nutrition Survey showed no improvement in nutrition indicators in decades, and highlighted alarming rates of undernutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies. These results alongside a strong international push to re-focus on nutrition have succeeded in placing nutrition higher on the policy agenda within Pakistan. Pakistan has recently adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were proceeded by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). SDG #2 aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

With an increasing proportion of the population sourcing its food from the market, the linkages between the farm and the consumers and its potential impact on nutrition needs to be understood. The value chain approach can be a helpful tool in studying these linkages. It builds on the concept of supply chains, focusing on value addition by various activities and actors.

In our recent LANSA working paper “Review of Agri-Food Value Chain Interventions Aimed at Enhancing Consumption of Nutritious Food by the Poor: Pakistan” we use this approach to better understand what happens in the process between production and consumption by examining actual value chain interventions dealing with agricultural food products in Pakistan. The benefit of using a value chains approach is that it can help us understand modern methods of producing and marketing food, traditional and informal arrangements, as well as combinations of the two, covering the various avenues through which the poor and undernourished acquire their food and the range of actors involved.

The current paper discusses a total of 24 interventions, representing a range of value chain activities primarily consisting of market-based and public distribution programmes. While value chain interventions are conventionally thought to work on business processes, this review also includes public sector systems for the distribution of nutritious foods to the poor. Foods are categorised into those that are naturally nutritious and those which have had micro-nutrients added to them.

Overall, what we learnt from the review is the following:
  • Agri-food value chain interventions in Pakistan are mainly used as a tool to improve livelihoods by focusing on supply. However an increase in supply of food does not necessarily result in increased consumption by the undernourished. 
  • Interventions which do focus on providing nutrient-dense foods to those that most need it could better focus on distribution channels that poor and undernourished use to source their food. These include informal markets and networks. 
  • Policy is important in the production and distribution of affordable nutritious foods such as fortified staples. Interventions that work in this area need to have a strong regulatory framework in place to be successful. However, extending regulation and policy to remote and informal markets can be a challenge. 
  • Private sector organisations that are involved in producing and marketing nutrient-dense foods need to devise strategies to target poor undernourished consumers in a sustainable manner. Selling nutritious foods to health conscious wealthy consumers will not result in improved undernutrition. 
  • The design of agri-food interventions also needs to pay attention to gender relations within the household - examining who prepares food, who has access to markets and who makes purchasing decisions has a strong bearing on consumption. Those marketing nutrient-dense foods should be aware of these gender norms.