The Enabling Environment for Safe and Nutritious Foods in the Market System
Addressing the immediate, underlying determinants of malnutrition has a direct impact. Strengthening the enabling environment through policies, regulations, laws and institutions is also critical for sustainable long-term outcomes in support of the U.S. Global Food Security Strategy. This post will explore what can be done at the market systems level to enable access to safe and nutritious foods.
The immediate causal factors for malnutrition are dietary intake and disease state (see Figure 1). Significant causes of the diseases that affect the utilization of dietary intake are food- and waterborne illnesses propagated by any number of pathogens and contaminants. When examining dietary intake, there is a wide range of factors that influence what people grow, purchase and actually consume, and these behaviors are part of broader food and market systems.
Figure 1: Nutrition Conceptual Framework*
Within the market system, both access and availability of safe and nutritious foods are important for promoting good nutrition and health, especially for vulnerable, low-resource populations. Meeting safety standards is crucial when market actors wish to engage in cross-border transactions. Foreign governments may have stringent safety measures which can bar producers who do not have the resources to meet these standards from market participation. Being excluded from trade and other financial transactions can lead to economic hardship for these producers and market actors, thus perpetuating or pushing people into poverty. On the nutrition side, when goods are rejected for not meeting safety standards, such as staples that contain high amounts of aflatoxin, households may resort to consuming the contaminated product due to lack of revenue from that sale.
Feed the Future programs focus on several key priority areas in order to create an enabling environment for food security within the market system. Several of these policy areas serve to promote both food safety and nutritious foods (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Food Safety and Nutrition Overlap
To engage in cross-border trade, food products must meet sanitary and phytosanitary standards. From producers to aggregators, transporters and processors, prevention of contamination and maintaining a hygienic environment are paramount. Feed the Future supports several initiatives in this regard, including the Africa Trade Hubs, which partner with the local private sector to meet national and international safety and quality measures. Not only do investments in safe trade increase safe food in the market place, they also strengthen economic outcomes, allowing actors along the value chain to benefit financially. Considerations must be made to ensure that the requirements needed to meet safety standards do not exclude actors who can neither afford nor access necessary resources, thus creating an exclusive marketplace.
Standards and Traceability
Another key tool for keeping the food supply safe is having a system to trace contaminants back to their source. In this way, the spread of disease-causing pathogens to consumers is quickly halted, and countermeasures can be taken to prevent the incident from reoccurring. Several projects are introducing technological innovations to trace any shipment that does not meet domestic or export standards. The Kenya KAVES project, which created the National Horticulture Traceability System, increased farmers’ sales over the life of the project. Another example is the software program Farmforce, which has been used across several countries to provide outgrowers with tracking capabilities in order to trace products to the farm level and provide other important management tools. Standards and traceability are especially important for highly perishable foods, such as fruits and vegetables. When these nutritious products are safely in consumer hands, everyone benefits.
Biological Safety and Technology
Within the ever-changing sectors of agriculture and crop propagation, standards have been put in place to mitigate risk from new technologies. Often biotechnology refers to genetically modified organisms, but it also includes traditional cross-breeding methods of creating improved varieties (e.g., HarvestPlus biofortified crops). While engineering plants to contain more micronutrients and withstand harsh growing environments is beneficial to consumers, particularly in low-resource contexts, safety measures are necessary to ensure that these technological advances do no harm. Biosafety systems as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN “prevent, manage, minimize or eliminate hazards to human health and security and protect the environment from biological agents and organisms used in research and trade.” An example of a USAID-funded project focused on biosafety is the Program for Biosafety Systems, which partnered with the Government of Kenya and the International Food Policy Research Institute to support the development and enforcement of biosafety standards and procedures.
Stay Tuned for More
The Feed the Future Enabling Environment for Food Security project is assessing USAID investments to reform policies, laws, regulations and institutions to support a market system for safe and nutritious foods. The benefits from addressing both the safety and nutritional quality of food available in the marketplace are twofold. Access and availability to safe food promotes good health and nutrition through a decline in food- and waterborne illness. Additionally, when value chain actors can depend upon income derived from participation in market systems through the production and sale of safe food, they are more financially stable, which also supports better household health and nutrition.
Stay tuned for the release of a technical series sharing findings coming soon!
*Source: Du, Lidan, 2014. Leveraging Agriculture for Nutritional Impact Through the Feed the Future Initiative: A Landscape Analysis of Activities Across 19 Focus Countries. Arlington, VA: USAID/SPRING.