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148 TODD BENSON


Political Context Advocacy is essential to foster the agriculture sector’s increased attention on issues related to improved health and nutrition. The form that effective advocacy takes will depend on both the particular issue and the specific context of policy and resource allocation decisions.


“Pressing” versus “Chosen” Policy Issues Grindle and Thomas usefully distinguish between pressing and chosen policy problems (1989). When a policy concern is pressing, substantive policy reform and action to address the issue is more likely to occur than when the concern is viewed as optional—or, “politics-as-usual”—and policymakers can choose not to address it without incurring political risk. Most of the issues related to improved health and nutrition that involve agriculture tend to fall into the politics-as-usual category. Ill health and malnutrition may be widely viewed as primarily a responsibility of the household and not of the government. Similarly, poor health, high morbidity, and food insecurity may be considered part of the environment within which a government operates, rather than as public issues to be addressed. In most develop- ing countries, the effectiveness and legitimacy of political leaders are unlikely to be called into question because of, say, continuing rates of high infant mortality or prevalence of stunted children. Unfortunately, these are treated as political issues of choice rather than urgency. Alternative perspectives on a health or nutrition problem can, however, reframe


an issue and sharpen public perception of its urgency. Through creative advocacy, a broad understanding can be crafted that could call into question a government’s legitimacy based on its attention to health and nutrition issues. The framing and definition of the policy issue is critical to determining its characterization.


Drivers of Policy Formulation The structures and mechanisms through which a government establishes its pri- orities vary considerably across countries. In many countries, political parties and special interest groups engage in the policy process, contributing to its dynamism— both defining the problems to be addressed and suggesting solutions for them. Within a democratic context, the actual decisionmaking structures are primarily those instituted to enable decisions by citizen representatives—that is, legislatures and cabinets; while government institutions are primarily only responsible for implementation of the resulting policies. The overall process exemplifies what Grindle and Thomas have called society-centered policy processes. In contrast, in many developing countries, democratic institutions at the


national level are absent or relatively new; there is less scope for a representative electoral system to influence problem definition and agenda-setting in policy


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