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.

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 aims to answer 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?

These questions will be addressed by applying formal value chain analysis to understand the links between agriculture, through post-harvest handling, processing, distribution and marketing, to consumption. Such a ‘whole chain’ approach emphasises the need to recognise and understand all actors and workers along the value chain, and the links between them. In so doing, 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 form part of this work:

  • A review and comparative analysis of agri-food value chain-based interventions. This will be harmonised, as far as feasible, with our landscaping and mapping activities in enabling environment for nutrition;
  • This review (above) will inform a series of value chain-based studies that will then be undertaken.To guide the studies, a conceptual framework will be developed that builds on existing value chain analysis frameworks, but with a particular focus on factors along the chain influencing nutritional outcomes;
  • In order to assess the impact of value chain interventions on nutrition, a quantitative assessment will be undertaken in at least one of the value chain studies, in each of the three study countries;
  • A synthesis of the results of the value chain studies will be undertaken. From this recommendations will be made for public and private actions to strengthen agri-food value chains so they deliver better nutritional impacts 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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