The nexus between agri-food value chains and nutrition
Malawi has prioritized improving food security for its people through maize-oriented policies and investments. This has, however, come at a cost of losing agricultural diversity and the nutrition benefits from diversified diets. Today, with undernutrition remaining unresolved, integrating agriculture, nutrition policies and institutional frameworks are more critical than ever.
Against this background, the CLIM2 Policy Dialog event, under the EU-funded CLIM2 project (https://clim.icrisat.org), brought together policy makers, researchers, district-level agricultural extension and nutrition coordinators, food industry representatives, and small-scale producers to examine the various dynamic linkages between agri-food value chains and nutrition. The purpose was to explore how diversification and integration of crops and livestock could contribute to higher incomes for small-scale producers and other agri-food value chain actors, while enhancing nutrition for rural communities in Malawi. More than 50 participants attended the two-day meeting in Blantyre, Southern Malawi, from 23 to 24 July 2019.
“Effective policies need to support agri-food systems to have collaborations at national and community levels to empower smallholder farmers and reduce the dependency syndrome”, emphasized Dr Yanira Ntupanyama, Chief Director, Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, in her opening speech.
“Southern Malawi, despite land shortage as the elephant in the room, has potential for farmers to gain more from better structured agri-food value chains. We are good at working on agricultural productivity; yet we must also work on the value chain constraints and institutional issues that restrict market interventions for agri-food value chains to respond to nutrition challenges,” said Dr Andre van Rooyen, Principal Scientist, ICRISAT.
Investing in high potential agri-food value chains
The CLIM2 project fast-tracks the release of the Kuroiler chicken breed and a new business model for communities to take advantage of the increasing demand for village chickens, while reducing Malawi’s import of the same. The objective is to verify if the improved performance of the Kuroiler, viz. efficient feed conversion, higher egg and meat production etc. holds true as a dual-purpose breed, along with its business model and value chain development. The new business model involves the registration of farmers as companies, with farmers contributing to infrastructure and owning shares in the companies. In all, 5,000 birds were evaluated on Mikolongwe Research Station in comparison to semi-commercial conditions on Luzu Quarantine Station, and on-farm production with 100 small-scale farmers in Balaka, Chiradzulu and Thyolo Districts. According to Donald Kaonga, PhD student, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), “Preliminary cost comparison suggests that farmers can raise these chickens free-range with supplementary homemade feeds at half the cost of commercial feeds.” Workshop participants visited the evaluation sites and experienced the opportunity and potential for Malawi to capitalize on the Kuroiler experience.
For the goat value chain, interventions prioritize gaps beyond the farm level: At the round table discussion, Mr Frank Nyungwe, representative of Balaka Goat Butcher Company, explained their business model, “CLIM2 came in to boost our business skills, building our capacity based on what was already there. This made it easier to address all the gaps. As a registered company, we can now access further support.” In collaboration with the municipality, the project refurbished the abattoir and butchery with cold rooms, and rehabilitation of sale pens is going on. The focus is on improving hygiene (water and waste management) and product quality, providing slaughter and storage facilities at a fee and delivering safe meat with extended shelf life. “This will increase prices for processors and farmers. Strengthening these markets will drive production, as farmers will get higher value for their produce,” said Dr Sikhalazo Dube, ILRI.
Analysis of the dairy sub-sector illustrates existence of policy barriers that undermine farmers’ efforts. Malawi has made great progress in increasing milk production; milk is increasingly available in retail shops. Yet, working together with the Bvumbwe dairy cooperative showed that large volumes of milk were being spoiled due to inefficient conditions for production and transport, and low output prices. Losses from milk spoilage arise in a policy environment that does not reward investments in value addition such as milk processing. National regulation enforces pasteurization, whereas national quotas restrict the amount of milk sold in the domestic market. Such regulations prevent low-cost milk to be made available to low-income rural and urban consumers. “We need policies that help mitigate such losses so that we can generate more income from milk and make milk products locally available. We are currently losing potential and investment if we do not prevent these losses,” concluded Dr Van Rooyen.
Crop residues and fodder are crucial to produce affordable livestock-based foods. “In Malawi, although crop-livestock integration has not been of great priority yet, the attitude to feed and fodder is changing. Farmers are perceiving greater importance of crop residues for feed,” said Dr Michael Blummel, ILRI. Genetic variability of crops suggests that improved varieties that combine farmers priorities can be found: primary traits for mitigating risk (disease resistance and early maturity), and secondary traits for grain and biomass yield. With decreasing availability of land and water against an increasing feed demand, there is a need to develop cost-effective sources of feed. Feed value chains need to combine feed quality and price. Business models that engage processing companies and small-scale farmers in feed and fodder production could well recover costs for hammer mills, through their income generation. Feeding crops to livestock could reduce the cost of producing nutritious foods.
Links to nutrition
How can we shape agri-food value chains to improve nutrition outcomes? Interactions at the policy dialog involving local and national-level representatives brought forward new perspectives and a number of policy issues towards integrating income generation with food security and nutrition outcomes. In his presentation, Prof Alexander Kalimbira, LUANAR Nutrition, shook up the audience about Malawi’s current state as nutrient-deficient country. “When I walk in the streets of Lilongwe I see selenium deficiency, zinc deficiency and various diseases related to undernutrition.” The agricultural sector, although providing food, did not cover the nutritional needs of the country, he said. Agriculture nourishes all Malawians, especially through livestock, which provides nutrients in a more bio-available form than plant-based protein. However, livestock-based foods are not available to most people in Malawi. “Tackling undernutrition through market-based solutions and fortification often fail to reach the resource poor, as they depend on buying cheap staples,” Prof Kalimbira said. More research is required: What nutrition gaps need to be addressed to help particular circumstances? How can small-scale enterprises make nutritious foods more accessible? How can value chain solutions and food actor alliances work towards addressing these nutrition gaps?
Policies that value better nutrition for poor and vulnerable: Agri-food production and utilization chains are poorly coordinated, with poor access to markets despite increasing demand. “Policies exist in agriculture and nutrition sectors, but they do not seem to facilitate collaboration and partnership for joint interventions,” said Ms Zione Kalumikiza, LUANAR Nutrition. “As a result, polices are not being adequately implemented.”
Leveraging uptake of nutrition-sensitive agriculture: Although support mechanisms for agriculture and nutrition exist at several levels, these platforms are not sufficiently integrated to address nutrition gaps. One entry point for better agriculture-nutrition integration is to distribute agri-food products like milk and eggs through community care groups to improve nutrition outcomes. Messages on nutritious diets, use of agri-food products and food processing can be integrated and disseminated in agricultural extension activities.
Role of research for income and nutrition outcomes: Through partnerships with public and private sectors, research nurtures reflection and continuity in cross-scale dialog. Research raises critical questions, such as: how to address barriers that hinder farmers from penetrating agri-food markets; what business models and capacity development will support nutritious foods; and how to accelerate feedback for improving delivery. “The challenge is for us in science, policy and extension services to elevate the game and come up with transformative policies and implementation to make change happen,” concluded Dr Van Rooyen.
The project on Improved livelihoods through sustainable intensification and diversification of market oriented crop-livestock systems in southern Malawi (CLIM2) is working to strengthen diversification and integration in crop-livestock farming systems in three districts of Malawi. The project is funded by the European Union under the Farm Income Diversification Programme (FIDP) Phase II – Agribusiness. The project is implemented by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) as the lead agency, in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Small-Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Programme (SSLLP); and several departments within the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.