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C h a pt er 1 Overview Shenggen Fan, Rajul Pandya-Lorch, and Heidi Fritschel M


ost people would say agriculture is about growing food; they are right. Agricultural performance, after all, is measured in terms of production—for example, yield or grain production. The purpose of agriculture, however,


does not stop there. At a deeper level, the purpose of agriculture is not just to grow crops and livestock for food and raw materials, but to grow healthy, well-nourished people. One of farmers’ most important tasks is to produce food of sufficient quan- tity (that is, enough calories) and quality (with the vitamins and minerals needed by the human body) to feed all of the planet’s people sustainably so they can lead healthy, productive lives. This is effectively one of the goals of agriculture, although it is rarely made explicit. Could agriculture do more to meet this goal? Recently the international devel-


opment community has turned its attention to the potential for the agriculture, nutrition, and health sectors to work together to enhance human well-being. In some ways, of course, agriculture, health, and nutrition are already deeply entwined. Agricultural production is an important means for most people to get the food and essential nutrients they need. And in many poor countries, where agriculture is highly labor intensive, productive agriculture requires the labor of healthy, well- nourished people. Yet, in other ways agriculture, health, and nutrition are quite separate: professionals in these three fields usually work in isolation from one another, with their efforts sometimes dovetailing in mutually beneficial ways and sometimes working at cross-purposes. In an ideal world, consumers would be fully aware of the merits of nutritious


foods, and producers, processors, and marketers, in turn, would know how to pro- duce, process, and market these high-quality, nutrient-rich foods. Market forces would provide the incentives, through product prices, to all involved in producing or consuming nutrient-rich foods. Unfortunately, our world is less than ideal, and market prices do not provide an adequate incentive for producing nutritious food. And, even if prices did reflect the nutritional value of food, they could put nutritious foods out of reach of poor people. This means public interventions are needed to correct market failures (when prices do not reflect the nutritional value of foods) or to improve affordability (for poor people).


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