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3ie – LIDC Seminar Series: Can agricultural interventions improve children’s nutrition?

Agriculture remains the main source of income for approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide. While the rationale for the majority of agriculture-sector interventions is based on the common premise that agricultural interventions increase household income, the evidence of linkages between agriculture and consumption remains limited or in many cases poorly assessed.
Speaker: Dr. Edoardo Masset Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
Discussant: Professor Sandy Oliver, Institute of Education
Chair: Professor Jeff Waage, Director of LIDC
 
The impact of agricultural interventions on children’s nutrition was explored at the ‘3ie – LIDC Seminar Series: What works in International Development?’ on 23 February 2011, with a presentation of the latest systematic review conducted by Dr. Edoardo Masset, Lawrence Haddad, Alex Cornelius of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and Jairo Isaza-Castro of University of Sussex. The study was commissioned and funded by DFID with the support of 3ie.
 
The primary objectives of the review were to systematise evidence of the impact of agricultural interventions on the nutritional status of children as well as assess the state of the literature available on this subject and its capability to provide credible evidence and guidance for policy.
 
So far only five systematic reviews have assessed impact of agriculture on nutritional outcomes. Most of the results suggests lack of evidence, with either mixed, positive or negative results with regards to nutritional outcomes of agricultural interventions. The review stresses the methodological weaknesses of these studies. None of them reports on participation rates and all neglect the importance of socio-economic characteristics of the programme participators, determinants of participation and long-term effects plus substitution effects in production and consumption of food items. Another major weakness of existing literature is the studies’ strong emphasis on intermediate outcomes of interventions and the fact that the majority of them do not address selection bias. What is specific about this review is that it explores the state of literature in agriculture and nutrition and helps gain clarity in terms of what we know and what we do not know.
 
A clear search methodology and inclusion exclusion criteria employed for this review were spelled out. Based on the inclusion criteria, 23 studies were considered in this analysis. The main outcome indicators studied are programme participation, income, diet diversity, micronutrient intake and nutritional status. Results were analysed using Meta-Analysis.
 
The review concludes that the question of whether agricultural interventions have a positive impact on children’s nutritional status cannot be answered based on the scarcity of the body of evidence available. Findings show greater impact of the intervention on the prevalence of short term indicators of hunger (wasting and underweight) versus long-term indicators (stunting).
 
More research on this subject matter is needed, including evaluations of agricultural interventions and their impact on nutrition as well as more precise measurement of nutritional outcomes and employing counterfactual analysis. The review recommends employing more adequate sample sizes as well as a thorough investigation of determinants of programme participation.

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