Can South Asia improve nutrition through agricultural interventions?

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Can South Asia improve nutrition through agricultural interventions?

Related tags Agriculture

A multi-sector approach is needed to improve the ‘complex’ relationship between agricultural practices and nutrition status in South Asia, finds Gates Foundation research.

A new review published in the journal Food Policy​ has taken aim at the impact of current agricultural interventions on nutritional status in South Asian countries – revealing a complex relationship between various factors in agriculture and nutritional status. 

Funded as part of an initiative by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the new review shows that the production of targeted nutrition-rich crops, homestead gardens, and diversification of the agricultural production system towards fruits and vegetables and aquaculture can potentially improve nutrient intake and nutritional outcome for people living in South Asian countries.

“The potential of agriculture for producing nutritious food is not appropriately tapped for reducing the malnourishment in this region,”​ said the research team – led by Vijay Laxmi Pandey from Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in India.

“Production of quality food in adequate quantity alone may not improve nutritional outcomes, unless malnutrition is addressed by adopting a multi-sectoral. Therefore, the agricultural policies and programmes need to be more nutrition-sensitive for improving the nutritional outcomes."​ 

The team adds that the empowerment of women and nutrition knowledge will also play a crucial role in establishing an improved link between agriculture and nutritional outcomes.

Pathways to improved nutrition

According to the team 22 of the 25 reviewed studies examined the contribution of agriculture as a source of food for nutrition. 

They noted that the studies indicate ‘strong evidence’ that dietary intake of agricultural households largely depends on food supplies from their own farm because subsistence farming is common in this region.

They noted that agricultural productivity can be improved by providing access to infrastructure and adherence to timelines, and that a significant association has been reported between such improvements in agricultural productivity and reduction of undernutrition.

“Particularly, the interventions for increasing the productivity and production of specific nutritious food crops such as vegetables and pulses showed positive implications for an increased intake of targeted food and child nutrition,”​ the team said – noting that homestead gardens were found to play a crucial role in the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

However, the Indian-led team also noted that research has also reported that while increased food supplies can help to increase overall calorie intakes and improve diet diversity, they “did not necessarily yield more favourable nutritional outcomes”

“The findings clearly indicate the importance of the home production of nutrient-rich food crops for improving the nutritional outcomes,”​ said the team. “Bio-fortification of staples and homestead gardens can influence the intake of a micronutrient-rich diet and consequently nutritional outcomes.”

The team also noted that agriculture can be leveraged to improve the nutritional outcomes indirectly through increased income and expenditure. 

However, they noted research has shown that although rapid economic and agricultural growth significantly contributed towards reducing stunting rates in many developing countries, it was not a sufficient condition for addressing the problem of malnutrition, because the impact of agricultural growth was location specific. 

Source: Food Policy
Volume 62, July 2016, Pages 28–40, doi: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2016.05.002
“Impact of agricultural interventions on the nutritional status in South Asia: A review”
Authors: Vijay Laxmi Pandey, et al

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