Food Tank by the Numbers: Small Farmers Are Nourishing the World By Sarah Small
Food Tank, March, 2014
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Equally important as the goal of feeding the world is the necessity of growing more nutrient-dense crops. Unfortunately improving nutrition has, ironically, not been an explicit goal of agricultural strategies for global food security over the past ﬁve decades. But there has been a heightened interest in recent years in using agriculture to maximize nutritional impact. xviii Initiatives such as the Scaling Up Nutrition movement and the 1,000 Days Coalition are drawing attention to the importance of nutrition, particularly for pregnant women and children, and successfully integrating nutrition into the broader food security conversation. The social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka Changemakers is also rallying around the importance of nutrition by launching the Nutrients for All: Vitality for People and the Planet initiative – innovators, social entrepreneurs, and thought leaders are creating projects and initiatives to tackle malnutrition and obesity.
All farmers can have a direct impact on nutrition through the crops that they choose to grow and consume, as well as through post-harvest and preparation methods. Indeed, increasing the production of nutrient-dense foods on family farms has been identiﬁed by Action contre la Faim, a French NGO, as a key practice for increasing nutrition and food security, particularly locally adapted varieties rich in protein and micronutrients. FAO has noted that “speciﬁc interventions aimed at diversifying what farmers produce and what food households have access to (e.g. through home gardens or raising small animals) can contribute to better nutrition.” xix
Analysis from FAO also reveals that most of the smallholder farms that have been successful in increasing consumption of nutrient-dense foods have done so through the production of diverse crops, as opposed to producing a single crop. xx Home gardens exemplify this success, providing a diversity of crops, a balanced diet, and high nutritional value to households. Traditionally, in many parts of the world, women are responsible for managing the family gardens. xxi Empowering women to choose varieties of nutrient-dense crops for their gardens can have a critical and direct impact on improving nutrition. Home gardens can also safeguard biological diversity, including many nutritious crops, as well as birds, insects, and other wildlife. xxii
Smallholders can also contribute to the quality of the food supply through proper post-harvest activities. In developing countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, 13.5 percent of the total value of grain produced is lost due to during poor post-harvest and processing practices, due in no small part to government investment in infrastructure and lack of access to markets. xxiii Inadequate handling and storage can also cause the loss of valuable micronutrients. In Africa alone, enough grain is lost each year to feed 48 million people. xxiv By decreasing nutrient losses in the post-harvest and storage phases, there is enormous potential for smallholders to maximize nutrient density for their families and communities.
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