Nutrition-sensitive Agriculture Approaches of IFOAM – Organics International

Food insecurity and malnutrition has severely affected the poor and marginalized communities in the global south countries. The new report about the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 estimates that one in every three people are malnourished in the world. This elucidates that about 3bn people around the world do not have access to healthy diets, and underdeveloped countries are facing a serious crisis of malnutrition. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 2.1 advocates access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all people all year round. However, it failed to meet its targets. 

To provide sustainable food production and better nutrition to countries in the global south, a conference was organized to analyze various factors that cause malnutrition. The conference was a part of the Nutrition in Mountain Agroecosystems (NMA) project under the Global Program Food Security (GPFS) of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and was led by a Consortium composed of IFOAM – Organics International, Helvetas, FiBL and the Wageningen University. They felt the need for different countries all over the world to work in collaboration, replicate and scale-up sustainable, nutrition-sensitive agriculture practices by empowering rural communities. Therefore, there was a need for a platform to mobilize and encourage communities to work together to provide sufficient, safe and nutritious food to vulnerable populations.

Therefore, the NMA project belonged to SDC’s GPFS and operated across five mountain regions: the Andes, East-African Highlands, the Himalayas, Hindukush, and Pamir-Tian Shan. NMA has scaled up nutrition-sensitive agriculture practices in mountainous regions where a high number of populations are malnourished.

The Need to Launch the Nutrition in Mountain Agroecosystems Project by IFOAM- Organics International

The increasing high exposure to natural hazards, climate variability, land degradation, poor access to markets, services and infrastructure has led to severe food insecurity in rural people living in mountain regions. To foster sustainable agriculture and provide accessible and affordable nutritional food in mountainous regions, IFOAM – Organics International (formerly known as The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) forms a worldwide community that unites people globally to promote organic agriculture and work on nutrition in mountain agro-ecosystems. With more than 750 member organizations from 116 countries, IFOAM – Organics international has mobilized communities, civil society organizations and governments worldwide, for instance, by emphasizing the need to adopt agro-ecological farming practices in mountainous counties.

In 2015, IFOAM Organics International launched the Nutrition in Mountain Agroecosystems (NMA) project with the financial support of the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency (SDC). The goal of NMA was to connect remote communities through nutrition-sensitive agriculture (NSA), simultaneously, scaling up the promising farming practices in mountain agroecosystems and advocate for the inclusion of the NSA approach into the local and national policies


Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecosystems Phase 1

Phase 1 consisted of the 3-year program, running from 2015-to 2018. The program addressed the underlying causes of malnourishment, increasing poverty, low production and low dietary diversity in mountain agro-ecosystems. During phase 1 NMA promoted nutrition-sensitive agriculture (NSA) at the local level. NMA provided a better understanding to people regarding improving their nutritional diet. During the first phase, the project covered 5 mountain regions: Himalayas (Nepal), Hindu Kush (Pakistan), Tian Shan (Kyrgyzstan), African Highlands (Ethiopia), and the Andes (Peru). Their activities focused on promoting and testing different small and local nutrition-sensitive agricultural production, processing, and marketing initiatives. It also included a strong component on capacity development and the implementation of 131 Micro-initiatives to implement concrete NSA practices and technologies at the local level.

The Mountain in Agroecosystems Action Network (MAAN) initiated by the NMA project, was an internet-based social and knowledge network of Rural Service Providers (RSPs). The project (NMA) belongs to SDC’s Global Program Food Security (GPFS) and operates across five mountain regions: the Andes, East-African Highlands, the Himalayas, Hindukush, and Pamir-Tian Shan. NMA has scaled up nutrition-sensitive agriculture practices in mountainous regions where a high number of populations are malnourished. The agro-ecosystems aimed to promote improved nutrition and resilience. It was driven by a network of rural service providers who were promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture practices at local, national, and global levels.

 The action network comprised individuals from government, civil society, grassroots workers and activists, community representatives, progressive farmers and farmers’ organizations. This platform also connected with business agents, salespersons and consumers. Moreover, educators, thinkers and many other intellectuals shared their knowledge and learning about nutrition-sensitive agriculture in mountainous areas. The use of the MAAN virtual platform allowed the RSPs to link with like-minded people, expand their social and knowledge network by training and coaching through online discussions.

The goal of NMA wasis to enable more people in mountain areas to consume diverse diets with sufficient, safe and nutritious food. As farming is the main occupation of the rural population, families living in remote mountain areas are largely dependent on agriculture. Due to scarce and unfertile land, poor infrastructure, difficult climatic and topographic conditions, working on nutrition and initiating organic agricultural practices was too hard. As the ecosystem in mountainous areas iwas complex and fragile and faced a high risk of avalanches, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, promoting agroecosystems seemed complex. The project focused on the replication and scaling-up of tested agriculture practices and food systems, it provided advocacy to the inhabitants, and addressed the underlying causes of malnutrition and achieved food security. NMA builtds the capacity of young leaders who designed and implemented interventions to help stabilize the food system.

Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecosystems: The second phase

The project expanded into four more countries: India (Himalayas), Tajikistan (Tian Shan) and Ecuador (Andes) and continued to facilitate cross-country learning, scaling up nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions, and strengthening food consumption components through awareness-raising. The second phase (2018-2021) focused on the replication and scale-up of successful and promising practices identified in the first phase. Most importantly, a selected number of Teams of Trainers who were trained during the first phase had become competent trainers and in the second phase of the project, they became responsible for capacity building of the next generation of RSPs.

Awareness-raising campaigns and advocacy for nutrition-sensitive agriculture were significant components throughout the project to enable conducive environments and policies that allowed to strengthen and expand these practices at larger scales. IFOAM – Organics International continued to envision more for the countries by bringing RSPs directly into the higher-level discussions. As mentioned earlier, NMA was led by a Consortium composed of IFOAM – Organics International, Helvetas, FiBL and the Wageningen University. The consortium aimed at nurturing the organic movement in different countries, using its full diverse cultural, economic and ecological context. Moreover, it always made an effort to improve the conditions of farmers, laborers, and other marginalized groups.

This second phase also included the SUNSAIs (Scaling-Up Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture Initiatives). These were interventions inspired by the MIs in the Phase 2, but with a broader geographical scope, with a stronger focus on the outreach to consumers.

The NMA project offered a tailor-made Capacity Development Program for RSPs in each NMA country. It consisted of initiatives taken on a local, national and global level.

 At the local level, the project relied on the internet-based MAAN platform. Accessing the platform was a challenge in some remote areas of target countries, due to poor or too expensive costs for internet connection, computer illiteracy and lack of desktop computers. To alleviate this challenge, the project provided a mobile-phone version of the platform and focused more on physical meetings with rural communities. The key target group broughtings the knowledge and information from the communities into the MAAN platform and called the users for debates and discussions to find a radical solution.

The National-level activities depended on collaboration and relationships with national decision-makers such as ministries of health and agriculture. The ministries developed national plans and programs on nutrition. Moreover, national policies and action plans supported and stimulated diversified production and consumption. Collaborating with various national organizations, and aligning the project with national committees and platforms wouldill promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture initiatives and approaches at the national level.

Global advocacy influences high-level organizations in an international forum. Global policies and processes strengthen the nutrition-sensitive agriculture approach, particularly in mountain regions. This outcome is based on the assumption that discussions and policy documents at the global level have successfully influenced policymaking and program funding priorities in mountain countries.

“For the past three years, we have been proud of the #IGrowYourFood global action day to elevate the voices, concerns and messages from local farmers to reach policymakers. We don’t need to “translate” these messages, because they are already clear, honest and unique just as they are.” – Alejandro Espinoza, IFOAM – Organics International

NMA – Outcomes

In these 6 years of operation, the project has brought a wealth of information and experiences to a wide range of stakeholders across levels and around the world. The project ended in October 2021 but the Mountain in Agroecosystems Action Network (MAAN) and its platform is maintained on and they are making efforts to expand its outreach and further promote improved nutrition and food consumption components to poverty-stricken areas.

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