OPERATING LEVERS FOR CHANGE
Policymakers, researchers, development agen- cies, NGOs, and others have at their disposal a range of tools that may help to leverage agricul- ture for better nutrition and health, including economic, social, governance and inclusion, and science and technology levers.
Economic Levers Evidence is still scanty on how specific economic policies affect nutrition and health, but researchers are beginning to look more closely at these issues.
Improved nutrition depends on availability
of healthy foods, people’s economic access to those foods, and people’s ability to absorb the nutrients in those foods. Economic levers may affect all of these components of good nutrition. As already mentioned, at the broadest level, one important lever for improving nutrition and health may be agricultural growth, or even overall economic growth. Comparing the experi- ences of various countries shows that economic growth is important for reducing undernutrition, but the impact of growth on nutrition declines as development progresses. At the early stages of a country’s development, agricultural growth is critical for lowering undernourishment, show- ing that the structure of growth matters for nu- trition outcomes. But malnutrition among young children—an important dimension of overall
nutrition—seems to be highly unresponsive to economic growth.8
to solve the nutrition problem. One set of levers that could affect people’s
economic access to healthy foods consists of the “fat taxes” and “thin subsidies” now being considered, and in some cases adopted, in the industrial countries, where overnutrition is a greater problem than undernutrition. One study simulated the effects of combining a tax on sat- urated fat with a subsidy for fruits and vegeta- bles in the United Kingdom. It found that such a policy would save a substantial number of lives among people who already consume close to the recommended levels of fat, fruits, and veg- etables, but it would likely not affect the diets of people who are far from the recommended lev- els. In addition, because poorer people tend to spend a larger share of their incomes on food, this policy would hit poor people’s pocketbooks hardest. A more targeted approach to improving people’s diets may be more appropriate.9
The most sustainable economic levers are
market friendly and align with people’s con- sumption preferences. The market for comple- mentary foods for infants, for example, is hampered by lack of information. Home pro- duction of high-quality complementary foods is labor intensive, and the market for purchased foods is dominated by expensive branded products. Cheaper locally produced infant foods are uneven in quality, so consumers rarely buy
Want Women to Do More for Agriculture, Nutrition, and Health?
Then Give Them the Tools It has been repeated over and over—women themselves are important links among the agriculture, nutrition, and health sectors. They perform the bulk of farm labor and food processing in many countries. They prepare food and care for children and household members who are ill. And in many cases they are carrying out these tasks without the benefit of credit; access to healthcare and childcare; secure rights to land and water; sound information about agricultural production, health, and nutrition; and access to well-functioning markets.
Increasing women’s access to resources and control over household income can significantly improve the health and nutrition of the family, and particularly of women and children. Agricultural development has the potential to increase the resources at women’s disposal, and thereby improve nutrition and health, but only if planners work to remedy women’s lack of access to the tools they need: credit, healthcare and childcare, prop- erty rights, education and extension services, and markets. When directing more tools and resources to women, though, it is important to avoid adding to the already heavy burdens on their time and labor.10
Growth alone is not enough
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