A primary way that agriculture can influence food security and nutrition is through improving the food environment: including increasing year-round availability and affordability of diverse, nutritious foods and diets. However, valid, low-cost indicators of that level have not been developed. Typically the only foods consistently monitored are staple grain commodities, despite that food security rests on consistent access to sufficient, safe, nutritious foods to meet dietary needs. Thus, meaningful information on availability and affordability of diverse foods has not been tracked, either through national/global monitoring systems or as indicators of desired impacts from nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions and investments.
Developing Novel Indicators, Bridging Nutrition and Economics in Africa
The Indicators of Affordability of Nutritious Diets in Africa (IANDA) Project, comprised of a team of researchers from the Tufts University Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the University of Ghana, the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will aim to achieve the following objectives:
- To use currently available food price and market data to develop valid and feasible metrics of the availability and affordability of nutritious, diverse foods and diets in markets throughout the year;
- To ensure that these indicators serve the needs of national policymakers and program planners across agriculture, nutrition, and health sectors, through a participatory process of data identification and user consultation in Ghana and Tanzania; and
- To recommend methods for indicator construction and suggestions for modifying food price monitoring and other data collection systems that will encourage the widespread adoption of these indicators at national and global levels.
To this end, linear programming and other statistical methods will be applied to secondary data derived from existing food price monitoring systems and other information sources identified through participatory data mapping process in two countries (Ghana and Tanzania) to test and validate a dashboard of key indicators. These indicators include:
- The availability of foods in each food group;
- The costs of diverse food groups;
- The cost of a minimally diverse diet;
- The cost of nutrient adequacy; and
- The cost of a recommended diet.
In Tanzania, our project offers a unique opportunity for adoption: the indicators will be developed in the context of the National Evaluation Platform (NEP), as a proof of concept for mainstreaming nutrition-sensitive agriculture indicators into a national information platform. The Government of Canada- and Johns Hopkins University-supported NEP serves as a model to be scaled up through the incipient European Commission and United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID)-supported National Information Platform for Nutrition (NIPN) in other Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) countries.
These metrics developed through the IANDA Project will yield information about the extent to which healthy diets are constrained by market-related factors, as well as information on which food groups and specific foods are most limited due to low availability and high cost. As investments in nutrition-sensitive agriculture grow, tracking such indicators will provide accountability toward the objective of improving access to diverse, nutritious diets, and can help policy makers better diagnose and take action upon the nutritional challenges within the food system.
The IANDA Project is supported by Competitive Research Grants to Develop Innovative Methods and Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions (IMMANA Grants) and funded with UK aid from the UK government.