Home / Research & policy: two peas in a pod? Session 2 - Exploring the potential of local foods to alleviate malnutrition

Exploring the potential of local foods to alleviate malnutrition

Blog conference session 2 - Nutrition and consumption
December 12, 2017 By: The Broker Image: The Broker
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With malnutrition rampant in many parts of the world, specific interventions are needed to promote healthy diets. This session on “Nutrition and consumption” focused on the preferences of local consumers and made the case for promoting ‘local foods’, which can be added to diets to diversify consumption patterns. However, promoting local foods to people at risk and the general population comes with both nutritional benefits and risks, which need to be explored. In parallel, the implications of various interventions for local and national value chain development also need to be explored.

See here the concept note prepared for this session, which brought together some of the Applied Research Fund (ARF) and Global Challenges Programme (GCP) projects focusing on local foods from Benin, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Southeast Asia.

Sijmen Schoustra of Wageningen University, project leader of the GCP project on Zambian traditional fermented foods, introduced the session. His project  focuses on how to formalize the production of traditional fermented foods to reach more consumers in Zambia. The evidence points to the nutritional value of some of the locally-produced food in Zambia. This knowledge can be translated into criteria and legislation that allow producers, like farmer cooperatives, to gain access to formal markets. This, in turn, would allow for bottom-upscaling. According to Anita Linnemann of Wageningen University, adding nutrition to the food security discussion allows for the systematic integration of nutrition value into the agro-food chain, thereby allowing new promising techniques to be developed to lessen nutrition losses.

It is, however, not only the supply that needs to increase. On the consumer side, the appetite for local foods also needs to be enhanced. As one participant said: “When I can choose between local food and a hamburger, I prefer the hamburger”. So, local foods need to be promoted. More consumer awareness should be generated about the value of local food crops, while acknowledging that, at least for urban consumers, convenience and price are also important. Linnemann suggested that, next to the nutritional value of (local) food, the ‘senses’ should also be considered: good-tasting local food that is appealing to the population should be the goal. Apart from being more attractive for consumers, this can also have a social effect, as it can strengthen local communities. Additionally, closer collaboration with women’s organizations might have extra value. If women start businesses processing local foods, they could raise their income and the quality of their diet.

In the session a debate evolved about how to integrate nutrition, especially local foods, into the policies of, for example, the Dutch embassies. One of the problems is that the nutritional effects of agricultural policies and investments are often not measured systematically. Generally, results are indicated in terms of better livelihoods for people, or the empowerment of women, who are the main managers of nutritious local food in many countries.

Some discussion emerged about the desirability of formalizing local food production. Scaling up is an advantage in terms of nutrition value, but the downside could be that commercial companies take over, pushing out the poor rural population, especially women. Big companies are not the holy grail for nutrition outcomes, was a conclusion of one of the roundtable discussions. It might be more useful to involve farmers and consumer organizations as key players in local value chains and create incentives for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to deliver nutritious products.

Another problem mentioned was that imported (processed) foods often compete with local food products. Countering this would have consequences for aims to promote agri-food trade, including exports from the Netherlands, and may require alternative trade regulations. However, countries should be able to limit imports of processed food.

Some of the participants raised the idea of writing a joint policy brief to Dutch embassies on the value of integrating local food into their policies. Research groups in African countries could sit together and deliver integral advice – with aggregated data about (what is missing in) local diets – to embassies and national policymakers. This might result in the promotion of local foods in dietary guidelines. Djidjodo Joseph Hounhouigan from the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin suggested advising national governments, with the support of the embassies, to intervene by labelling traditional foods to enable them to be sold in supermarkets, thus making them available to urban populations.

Background information

Watch the interview with Sijmen Schoustra (Video by The Broker)

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