5 ways to deliver nutrition through cash crop standards

A farmer checks the humidity of each sack of cacao seed, taking advantage of the low-humidity incentive by Nestlé to get a better price for quality cocoa. Photo by:  Nestlé / CC BY-NC-SA

Nutrition security is an essential part of improving farmer livelihoods.

As such, a number of delivery channels within the agricultural system have been identified to reach farming families that suffer from malnutrition in developing countries. While the focus so far has been on food product supply chains, one new approach being explored by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition focuses on delivering nutrition through cash-crop supply chains..

Cash crops in themselves have relatively low nutritional value, but the agricultural system around them can serve as a perfect delivery channel for nutrition interventions.

In recent years, numerous certification standards like Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance or UTZ Certified have been adopted to ensure a more sustainable future for cash-crop farmers. These schemes offer codes of conduct to guide good practice, as well as a supporting system of local guidelines, training modules, educational programs and household surveys.

Nutrition-sensitive interventions could be integrated into these schemes through many different approaches. Since standards use different routes and approaches, the possible interventions can be grouped into individual and joint activities. Here are five ways to achieve nutrition-secure cash-crop supply chains.

On an individual level, standards systems could:

1. Incorporate nutrition-sensitive criteria into their codes of conduct. Codes could stipulate the need for nutritious canteen meals for workers as well as on-site child care and breastfeeding facilities. They could promote nutrition security by promoting the need for safe drinking water, toilets and handwashing places, as well as clean cooking and eating facilities for workers.

2. Include nutritional advice in their local interpretation guidelines. This could feature advice on how to use nutritious fruit and nut trees as shade trees or requirements for the diversification and intercropping of nutritious crops.

On a joint level, standards can use their supporting systems to deliver nutrition by:

3. Using key nutrition questions in household surveys and pilot studies. Including questions on breastfeeding practices, maternal health, eating habits and family diet patterns will give better insight into local nutrition needs and challenges.

4. Integrating nutrition education and awareness into existing training modules for organized farmer groups. This could involve offering nutritional advice, training of good agricultural practices or including nutrition awareness in community programs.

5. Integrating key nutrition indicators into global key indicator frameworks in cooperation with global initiatives like ISEAL, the Sustainable Food Lab and COSA, among others. This would enable standard setters to determine whether nutrition objectives were being met.

Nutrition security is essential for improving farmer livelihoods and can be delivered through agricultural systems in increasingly innovative ways. A nutrition-sensitive certification standard is just one possible instrument that should be used alongside other relevant programs such as delivering agricultural training or community development programs that focus on social issues, like child rights, women’s empowerment, health and sanitation.

It’s important that certification is perceived by farmers as a helpful tool — not an extra burden on their precious time and capacity. With the amount of global challenges we face, we might risk including too many criteria in the code of conduct or requirements for evidence of compliance that are difficult to achieve. Producers must be well supported so that they can see the benefits of complying with a nutrition-sensitive certification standard.

Meanwhile, the potential for collaboration is highly promising. As GAIN continues to work with standards systems to find delivery mechanisms for nutrition secure cash-crop supply chains, we are optimistic about the role that standards can play in fighting malnutrition.

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Feeding Development is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with ACDI/VOCA, Chemonics, Fintrac, GAIN, Nestlé and Tetra Tech to reimagine solutions for a food-secure future from seed and soil to a healthy meal.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Mieke van Reenen

    Mieke van Reenen is responsible for developing nutrition-secure supply chains programs within the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. Van Reenen holds a master’s degree in forest and nature conservation from the Netherlands’ Wageningen University. She’s particularly interested in linking ecological and agricultural systems with social livelihood improvements and gained significant expertise in sustainable supply chains and certification while working for the Tropical Commodity Coalition.