SOAS University of London

SOAS project finds significant changes are needed to improve nutrition in South Asia

8 March 2019

The SOAS University of London project, Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA), has found that significant changes are needed in agriculture and food systems in order to attain UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 of Zero Hunger.

Despite significant improvements over recent decades, rates of undernutrition remain high in South Asia, with adverse impacts on morbidity and mortality. Overweightness and obesity among children and adults is now an additional and major public health concern.

While agriculture has the potential to improve nutrition through several pathways, this potential is currently not being realised in the region. LANSA set out to improve understanding about how agriculture and related food policies and programs in South Asia (specifically in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan) can be better conceptualised and implemented in order to enhance impacts on nutrition outcomes, especially those of young children and adolescent girls.

The project found that leveraging agri-food systems for nutrition required fundamental change. This includes the strengthening of institutional and policy environments to enable agriculture and food systems to support nutrition goals and modifying the design, location and implementation of agri-food system interventions to enhance their effects on nutrition outcomes. Developing human capacity and leadership to use and demand appropriate evidence to improve decision making in the target countries is essential.

The project also found that agriculture can do more as a driver of nutritional change, but it needs to work with other sectors to maximize its impacts on nutrition. Social protection can protect the nutrition and health of impoverished smallholders as they struggle with seasonality and climate shocks. And links between local agricultural production and school feeding (linked with educational retention) could generate win-win benefits: income for small producers and their families, and nutrition and cognitive gains for school-age children. The universality and interconnectedness of the Sustainable Development Goals reflect the need for multisectoral solutions to development challenges, like malnutrition.

The research has been summarised in a special edition of the journal Food Policy. A wide range of other publications can be accessed from the Publications tab on the programme website at: http://lansasouthasia.org/.

LANSA was a DFID-funded research consortium running from 2012-2019. The SOAS/LIDC work on policies, agri-value chains and Afghanistan in particular was led by Professor Bhavani Shankar and Professor Nigel Poole.