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Nutrition-Sensitive Agricultural Value Chains: Approaches for Project Design and Implementation

Event Details
Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 8:00am to 2:00pm
SEIU Conference Center: 1800 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC

Event Overview

The TOPS Program and SPRING hosted a one-day learning event on nutrition-sensitive agricultural value chains in Washington, DC. The purpose of the event was to:

  • Increase knowledge sharing, collaboration, and learning between nutrition-sensitive agriculture practitioners;
  • Increase awareness of nutrition-sensitive value chain approaches other practitioners are taking in their agricultural programs; and
  • Familiarize participants with a tool that identifies entry points for nutrition-sensitivity in agricultural value chain projects.

The event was designed to provide a forum where both nutrition and agriculture specialists could feed into discussions and share their ideas and experiences. Individuals from 20 different organizations and government agencies attended, creating a rich mix of nutrition and agriculture technical advisors from implementing organizations, as well as staff from the USAID Office of Food for Peace and USAID Bureau for Food Security.

To begin the event, participants shared their thoughts on why nutrition-sensitive agricultural value chains are important. They later broke into smaller groups and discussed 4 nutrition-sensitive value chain topics in a world café style approach. Finally, participants learned about and commented on SPRING's tool designed to identify entry points for nutrition in agricultural value chains. 

A few takeaways from participants included:

  • We need to advocate for more consistent inclusion of nutrition indicators and activities in value chain projects;
  • We need more multi-sectoral programs, and for them to be integrated;
  • There are many different opinions, and a healthy amount of skepticism, surrounding nutrition-sensitive value chain approaches, eliciting the need for evidence; and
  • Integrating nutrition-sensitivity into value chain projects is often “easier said than done,” and there is a need and demand for the development community to continue iterating to find nutrition-sensitive approaches that work, and to subsequently share those findings broadly.

Do you have an example of a successful nutrition-sensitive agricultural value chain project? If so, let us know!

Given the immense amount of interest in nutrition-sensitive agricultural value chains, TOPS and SPRING are considering a repeat or follow-on event, a series of webinars, or other remote-learning opportunities. Please check the FSN Network’s Upcoming Events page for updates.

Have questions? Contact Abby Love, Agriculture Officer for TOPS, at


Opening Discussion

We started the day by asking participants, "Why are nutrition-sensitive agricultural value chains important?" 

A few answers to this question included:

  • Agricultural value chain interventions have the potential to reach large populations, beyond just the value chain actors;
  • Value chains feed markets, and people eat what is in the market;
  • Nutrition-sensitive value chains are a way to bridge the agriculture and nutrition silos; and
  • Nutrition and value chain incentives don’t always align.

Do you also have thoughts on this question? If so, we invite you to start a discussion and share your thoughts on the FSN Network! 

World Café Small Group Discussions

Descriptions and materials from the various small group discussions and presentations throughout the day.

Can a Commercial Technology Solution Dually Benefit Incomes and Nutrition?
Laura Ostenso, Knowledge Exchange Lead from Fintrac, discussed Fintrac’s partnership with a company called EthioChicken in Ethiopia, which showcased how a commercial technology solution dually benefits smallholder farmers’ incomes and their nutrition. Laura shared lessons from the project and facilitated a discussion about: (1) How any program might connect with or incorporate long-term commercial solutions in food security and nutrition work; and (2) How to foster private partnerships that dually benefit food security, particularly nutrition, and market development outcomes in rural communities.

Takeaways from this session:

Potential avenues that public-private partnerships can take to be more nutritionally sensitive:

  • Integrate behavior change messaging into product marketing campaigns (television, radio, etc.), specifically about water and sanitation such as hand washing;
  • Train salespeople in how and why diet diversity alongside their product will benefit their customers (and specifically about how to limit food borne illness);
  • Use packaging materials to advertise nutrition and health;
  • Advocate with government offices for enabling environments that lower the overall cost, and thus price, of nutritious food products; and
  • Use byproducts, such as egg shells, to fortify other products with calcium.

Learn more about this discussion here.


Outcomes along the Agriculture-to-Nutrition Pathways
Heather Danton, Director of Food Security and Nutrition with SPRING, and Victor Pinga, Agriculture Advisor with SPRING, facilitated an activity where participants placed a list of outcomes along SPRING’s agriculture-to-nutrition pathways. They solicited feedback and discussion on SPRING’s work around nutrition-sensitive agriculture outcomes and interim indicators within agricultural programs.

Takeaways from this session:

  • The agriculture-to-nutrition pathways are truly multi-dimensional and it’s important to visualize the pathways this way when designing indicators that align with this framework.
  • This is made more complex by the fact that indicators apply to both the household and food system or value chain level.
  • Many of the nutrition-sensitive outcomes suggested by the exercise/game are best measured from the food and agriculture system activities that aim to achieve the key results from agricultural development, increased yields, increased income for producer households, and improved gender equity. Because of this, many nutrition-sensitive agricultural outcomes do not apply to the pathways. This finding supports the question, “To what extent, if any, can value chains be held responsible for reductions in stunting?”

To view the list of outcomes SPRING used during this exercise, visit here.


Preventing Aflatoxin through Social and Behavior Change—for Markets, for Nutrition, or Both?
Serena Stepanovic, Senior Advisor for Strategic Behavior Change & Communication with URC, discussed the implementation context of the USAID-funded Uganda Production for Improved Nutrition program. In this project, URC (as a sub to Reco Industries) provides technical leadership for nutrition-sensitive livelihoods by increasing food availability and accessibility. She described some of the challenges and opportunities that URC has seen in trying to prevent aflatoxin contamination within maize and groundnut crops, and the various channels of influence and motivation that they seek to leverage through their SBC tools. In particular, she discussed the 22 SBC Action Cards around production, harvesting and post-harvest practices. One of the cards specifically focuses on aflatoxin and the need for improved practices for storage, sorting and drying.

Takeaways from this session:

  • Communication about aflatoxin prevention strategies are challenging to communicate at the farm level because you can’t see, taste or smell it, and it is not being tested for. URC uses a slightly adapted SBC/DBC Framework to identify barriers and enablers, and to pretest behavior change communication messages about aflatoxin prevention in the post-harvest phase.
  • It’s important to understand which words farmers are familiar with and resonate with before designing SBC messages. For example, the word “aflatoxin” never surfaced with farmers, despite being taught in Farmer Field Schools. However, the word “contamination” did surface, so URC adapted the messaging on the Action Cards to focus on making harvesting and food storage safer.

See the full presentation here.


What Factors are Required for Successful Nutrition-Sensitive Value Chain Development?  
Sarah Simons, Nutrition-Sensitive Livelihoods Advisor from Save the Children,discussed a cowpea value chain activity, part of the ongoing USAID Office of Food for Peace-funded "LAHIA" Project in Niger led by Save the Children. Cowpeas are a nutritious cash crop for which there is already market demand in the project region. Among other income generation activities, the LAHIA Project is working with women’s groups to produce, process, package and sell cowpea products. Sarah facilitated discussions on lessons from the project on why nutritious crop value chain promotion doesn’t always work, what makes a successful nutrition-sensitive value chain, and the importance of successful crop production, demand creation, and social and behavior change (SBC).

Takeaways from this session:

  • LAHIA’s integration with the REGIS-AG project--which is strengthening market linkages through work with buyers--has helped increase women's value chain literacy and drive the success of the activity. REGIS-AG is helping the women improve marketing and packaging of their cowpea products and introducing linkages with value chain stakeholders.
  • A key challenging aspect to a successful nutrition-sensitive value chain is finding or creating demand, both within the market systems and value chains as a whole. The development sector is not usually well equipped to create demand for a new product. Demand creation can take a long time and requires private sector interest and expertise.
  • Non-nutrient rich commodity value chains can still be nutrition-sensitive if income from the product is used to purchase items that address the underlying determinants of malnutrition (e.g., nutrient rich foods, quality storage devices, clean drinking water filter items, etc.).
  • Regardless of the commodity (i.e., nutrient-rich or non-nutrient-rich), in order to make an intervention nutrition-sensitive, SBC on consumption and income use must be integrated into the project.

To learn more about the LAHIA project, visit here.

Identifying Entry Points for Nutrition in Agricultural Value Chains

Heather Danton, Victor Pinga, and Sarah Titus from SPRING presented an approach and tool that they are developing called Adapted Value Chain Analysis (AVCA). At the heart of the AVCA is a desire to determine how to pursue improved performance or competitiveness of value chains while also pursuing enhanced results for nutrition.

The AVCA can be done as a part of a value chain analysis or as a second step, building on the findings and recommendations of the value chain analysis. There are 4 key steps that follow the standard steps of a value chain analysis:

  1. Data collection: An assessment of nutrition challenges in the target area, key underlying contributors to these challenges, other efforts being made to address these in the target area, etc.
  2. Chain mapping: Identifying the key actors in the value chain, their relationship to each other, what opportunities may exist for them to contribute to underlying causes of malnutrition in the area, etc.
  3. Analysis of constraints and enablers to nutrition opportunities: Some examples include constraints and enablers to increasing incomes, especially for women; doing no harm; reducing time and energy burden on women; reducing time and energy burden on value chain actors; reducing health and environmental safety risks; building demand for more nutritious/diverse foods through behavior change communication; and increasing investments in care and health
  4. Upgrading strategy: This helps to identify activities that will help to make value chain activities more nutrition-sensitive, in other words, mitigate constraints and support enablers to opportunities identified in the previous step

The value chain may be for a nutrient-rich value chain commodity (NRVCC) or a non-NRVCC. The nutrition opportunities for NRVCC and non-NRVCC differ; therefore, it is important to analyze these value chains differently. See Exercise 1 and Exercise 2 as an introduction to thinking through Step 3. Visit here to see a completed opportunities and constraints analysis along a coffee value chain.

After completing the analysis of constraints and enablers, the next step is to develop an upgrading strategy, the activities needed to support the potential nutrition-sensitive outcomes identified from the previous 3 steps among and across value chain actors. Again, the upgrading strategy will depend on whether or not the crop is nutrient-rich or not. Visit here for an example of a simplified upgrading strategy.

SPRING is continuing to refine the AVCA tool, following the initial testing in Sierra Leone, and is gathering input from the nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food security community. Stay tuned for the next iteration!

Takeaways from this session:

  • To fully understand and take advantage of the nutrition-sensitive opportunities along a value chain, include both agriculture and nutrition staff in the value chain analysis.
  • Conducting an AVCA to analyze nutrition-sensitive agriculture value chain opportunities requires an understanding of value chain analysis as well as an assessment of the underlying contributors to malnutrition in the target area.
  • A list of specific questions to be asked of each value chain actor is needed in order to identify constraints and enablers for leveraging nutrition-sensitive opportunities along a value chain. This step also needs to identify incentives for value chain actors to include nutrition-sensitive messages or actions into their roles and responsibilities within the value chain, i.e. leverage points for nutrition must make good economic sense, as well.
  • Opportunities for non-NRVCC value chains to be nutrition-sensitive exist.

To view SPRING’s full presentation, visit here.