FSN Forum

DISCUSSION No. 138 • FSN Forum digest No. 1296

How can value chains be shaped to improve nutrition?

until17 April 2017

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Dear Members,

We would like to provide you with an update on the current online consultation “How can value chains be shaped to improve nutrition?

Over the last week, participants touched upon important aspects such as the production methods employed and the need to analyse value chains in the context of the entire food system and the surrounding environment.

Participants also advocated for a stronger role of women and indigenous knowledge in the development of value chains and the need to explore the part played by the private sector in more depth. We also started receiving the first case studies (Bangladesh, India and Pakistan) and we would like to encourage you to share any you are aware of.

You can find an overview of the latest comments below, together with a detailed recap of the second week prepared by the Working Group on Nutrition-Sensitive Value Chains of the Rome-based Agencies (RBAs), the conveners of this exchange.

To take part in this consultation, please send your comments to FSN-moderator@fao.org or post them directly online on the FSN Forum: www.fao.org/fsnforum/activities/discussions/nsvc

By sharing your experiences you will help the RBAs refine their approach to nutrition-sensitive value chain development, bringing it closer to ongoing operations in the field.

Your comments are welcome in all UN languages, and you can read the introduction to the topic and the background paper online in English, French and Spanish.

Looking forward to your participation,

Your FSN Forum team


Feedback from the Working Group on Nutrition-Sensitive Value Chains of the Rome-based Agencies

The second week of the consultation has brought insightful and interesting comments from the participants. The members of the RBA WG on VC and nutrition would like to, first of all, thank the contributors for their participation. A number of reflections revolved around the challenges and opportunities that arise when a nutrition-sensitive lens is applied to VC development, while also highlighting a number of areas of tension and convergence.

Contributors have noted the potential for a value-chain approach to focus on single commodities that may not contribute to improved nutrition and may exacerbate the downsides of monocropping and reinforce the lack of agro-biodiversity.  The more inclusive approach described in the framework highlights the importance of bringing demand and nutrition considerations into the analysis, helping to identify interventions meant to address these nutrition problems. This aspect is perhaps more forcefully presented in two of the references underlying development of the framework (Gelli et al., and De la Peña, Garrett, and Gelli).  Short value chains, attention to local markets, and the use of neglected and underutilised crops are key elements of the NSVC framework that could be emphasized more. 

The comments also emphasize the need to place the framework, which focuses on VCs as part of an overall approach to development, more firmly in the context of food systems and the surrounding enabling environment.  For example, while understanding the usefulness of a VC approach, Bioversity International promotes a “multi-chain” approach as part of a development strategy for smallholders.  Diversity in production, marketing, and consumption can help improve the robustness of production systems, the provision of environmental services, and healthy diets. This can also help to support gender and inter-generational equity (www.bioversityinternational.org/initiatives/healthy-diets and www.bioversityinternational.org/news/detail/enhancing-benefits-for-smallholders-across-biodiverse-value-chains).   

The framework should pay more attention, the contributors also seem to suggest, to issues of indigenous knowledge, women, environmental sustainability, and the multiplicity of actors involved in making value chains work for nutrition.  This last observation raises important questions about VC governance:   What are the interests among the different stakeholders along the VC?  What are the activities that each one should do? How might this vary by political, economic, institutional, and social context?  What incentives or disincentives do the different actors have?  And what sorts of policies, programs, or mechanisms are needed to help ensure coherence and effective actions among them, including issues of information, capacity, and coordination, to ensure that the value chains that are developed function so as to benefit the nutrition of the most vulnerable? Responsibility and accountability seem to be key here.   And while the framework mentions the need for monitoring and evaluation, one participant argues that, in fact, periodic assessments (and so, it seems, consistent monitoring over time) need to be carried out.  

The role of the private sector seems to one particular area that should be explored in more depth.  Some participants caution about the risks associated with PPP and emphasize the need to ensure actions go beyond an economic assessment of VCs and focus on the nutritional needs of consumers. The Private Sector Mechanism Position paper includes interesting strategies to be promoted to link agriculture, nutrition and health.  The private sector is undoubtedly a key player in the development of VCs and, indeed, of entire food systems, beginning with smallholders for whom farming is a livelihood and a business.  We would be interested in knowing more about experiences or approaches to share about how to make VC governance more effective that take these considerations into account. 

The issue of food loss and food safety (especially for perishable crops) was mentioned by several contributors as a key dimension that needs to be considered at all stages of the VC. The RBA WG shares these views and would like to reinforce the importance of hygienic and safe handling along the VC to ensure that nutritious and safe food is made available for human consumption. As pointed by some of you, strict regulations on food safety may, however, exclude smallholder farmers from the VC, as the small producers may not have the resources or capacity needed to comply with such requirements. We would be grateful for any experiences that have successfully managed this trade-off between food safety and inclusion of smallholder producers.

Another member of the group brought an essential dimension to the debate: women's empowerment. As rightly mentioned, there are not only opportunities but also risks for household nutrition if women's resources and time constraints are not carefully considered. The discussion paper (paragraph 10) points towards the implications of women's empowerment as a key mediator of impact on nutrition, not only in terms of time and resource constraints, but also in terms of the impact on their own health and nutritional status. Clearly there is a need to unpack this dimension of the framework and further explore the linkages between women's empowerment, agricultural VCs, and nutrition.

Your contributions are of great value to us. We appreciate the effort of those of you who have read the discussion paper, and welcome your views on how we may render it more operational.

As noted, we are very eager to hear about examples on the ground, initiatives that have been successful in developing VC to enhance nutrition, as well as interventions that have failed and provide useful lessons for future action. Thanks again for your contributions and for allowing us to learn from your ideas and experiences.

Members of the Working Group on Nutrition-Sensitive Value Chains of the Rome-based Agencies


iconBoris Karpunin, Federal Center for Agricultural Counseling and Retraining, Russian Federation

Boris argues that the concept of ‘nutrition-sensitive value chains’ (NSVC) is well developed in the document. However, he points out that coordination among the value chain actors will be complicated due to different capabilities of countries to implement food security measures. This leads to the question of who will provide funding for NSVC development and in what amount. The mechanisms outlined in the document are not sufficient, and Boris proposes to develop a public financing mechanism. Additionally, he stresses that the different nutritional problems should be separated, and that addressing overnutrition is within the competence of the World Health Organization rather than of the CFS.

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iconDhanya Praveen, Environment Protection Training and Research Institute, Hyderabad, India

According to Dhanya, producers should consider the nutritional as well as economic value of food to consumers. She stresses that the multiple actors involved in the value chain have responsibilities in this regard, and points to the need to develop strategies to strengthen coordination among the key players. She also mentions that improving value chains for nutrition entails a series of integrated processes such as rainwater and watershed management, and that periodical assessments are required for the value chains to function effectively.

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iconAnn Steensland, Global Harvest Initiative, United States of America

Ann stresses that research in Africa and Asia shows that addressing women’s time and resources constraints is crucial to improving agricultural productivity and nutrition. A study in Zambia for instance found that for the poorest households, the best agricultural pathway to improving nutrition is for women to increase the production of nutrient-dense foods. If women have access to assets or credit and can purchase time-saving agricultural inputs, the best pathway to improving nutrition would be increasing the production of cash crops or high-value crops, and to use the increased income to purchase nutritious foods.

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iconTakele Teshome, Association for Sustainable Development Alternatives (ASDA), Ethiopia

Takele points to a number of issues that should be considered when thinking about nutrition-sensitive value chain development: actors working in the field need conceptual clarity on what food security exactly entails, preventing food loss and maintaining food safety is crucial, the absence of market information reduces profits of producers, and pollution and pesticides negatively affect nutrition.

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iconFlorence Egal, Food Security and nutrition expert, Italy

Florence comments on the discussion paper, and argues that the focus on value chains leads to a bias towards the classical supply-driven approach and risks reinforcing the prevailing confusion between food chains and food systems. The discussion paper should therefore consider providing the rationale and a roadmap for reorienting food systems as an integrating concept for Agenda 2030. In addition, she argues that references to sustainable use of biodiversity, retrieval of indigenous knowledge, supporting local products, and traditional food systems and value chains are missing in the paper.

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iconSangeetha Rajeesh, LANSA Consortium, MSSRF, India

Sangeetha shares a number of publications by LANSA (Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia), including a conceptual framework of agri-food value chain interventions aimed at enhancing consumption of nutritious food by the poor, and three studies on such interventions in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. These studies specifically address interventions focusing on naturally nutrient-dense foods, foods of increased nutritional value and food distribution.

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iconMar Maestre, Institute of Development Studies, United Kingdom

Mar highlights the important role that markets, the informal sector and small and medium enterprises play in ensuring nutrition-sensitive value chains. She shares another framework developed by LANSA, which focuses on assessing the pathways for delivery of nutritious foods. The framework has been used for 12 case studies in South Asia, assessing different market pathways and focusing for instance on the promotion of dairy value chains and public-private partnerships.

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