Understanding food systems transitions is key to achieve nutritional outcomes

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Food systems can be effectively transformed by identifying drivers of food choice and factors influencing personal food environments, thereby enabling effective strategies to link agriculture and nutrition.

This was one of the key messages at the recent conference of the Agricultural Economics Research Association (AERA), India, which focused on “Changing Landscape of Rural India” as well as understanding the major trends, impacts and its contributions to the Indian economy. Also, a potential opportunity was announced for students and researchers for accessing ICRISAT’s VLS-VDSA farm household panel dataset, with appropriate financial support through Jim and Wendy Ryan Endowment Fund (https://www.icrisat.org/jim-and-wendy-ryan-endowment-fund/ ).

At a plenary session, panelists illustrated different aspects of food systems through case studies.

Dr Shalander Kumar, Principal Scientist, ICRISAT, used a case study in Telangana, India, to recommend mapping of rural food environments, and identifying and evaluating nutrition-oriented value chain interventions. Understanding the food environment which provides key interface between food systems/value chains and consumer behavior is critical to design effective strategies for strengthening agriculture and nutrition linkages, he said.

Dr R Padmaja, Senior Scientist, ICRISAT, highlighting the dynamics of nutrition in urban sprawls, said, “In developing countries like India, environmental, community, macro-economic, household and individual factors serve as obstacles to healthy eating and improvements to better nutritional outcomes.”

Dr Ravi Nandi, Associate Scientist, ICRISAT, presented an inclusive value chain model framework specifically developed for dryland smallholders to ensure farmer participation along the value chain through primary and secondary processing of their crops. “In tribal regions, traditional agriculture and food systems were negatively affected by policy and loss of diversity due to ecological changes, markets, and the modernization process,” said Dr E Revathi, Director, Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS), under the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). She reiterated that a deeper understanding of rural-urban transformations and their relationship with food insecurity.

Ms Kavitha Kasala, Senior Scientific officer, ICRISAT, presented a paper on the prevalence of malnutrition in adolescent girls in the tribal regions of Telangana. The study highlights the need for policies and programs specifically aimed at adolescents in the tribal regions to challenge the existing cultural norms related to food consumption.

The 27th AERA Annual Conference was held at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, Punjab, India during 17-19 December 2019. The event was supported by the CGIAR Research Program Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals.

Recommendations to transform food systems in India:

To design effective nutritional interventions, we need to look at the entire food system and rural food environment considering availability, affordability, accessibility, convenience and desirability as well as external food environment.

To address the triple burden of malnutrition, evidence-based behavior change communication (BCC) strategies are needed to improve nutrition awareness for enhanced nutrition, health and wellbeing of all communities.

Inclusive value chains can generate social benefits of poverty reduction, income and employment generation, economic growth, environmental performance, gender equity and other development goals.

Development of non-timber forest products (NTFP) value chains are key for tribal people’s food and livelihood security.

Nutri-cereals need to be effectively included in the public distribution systems to facilitate diversity in food basket.

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals


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