How could National Food and Agricultural Policies be harnessed to improve Nutritional Outcomes in Africa?
Obidimma Ezezika 08 March 2023


strawberries being picked

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Of the 673 million people globally undernourished, approximately 224 million reside in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), comprising about one-third of the global total. Simultaneously, malnutrition in the form of obesity is also on the rise in the region. This rise is explained by factors such as food insecurity, a shift to Western diets, environmental and climate factors, and conflicts. The nutrition transition, which refers to the shifts in dietary patterns and physical activity associated with changes in economic and social development, is also attributed to the rise of obesity.

There is a need for solutions to improve the food system and address the factors that rapidly contribute to the rate of nutrition transition and the quickly increasing obesity rate in SSA. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture can play an important role in reducing malnutrition by addressing the underlying causes of nutrition outcomes. Due to the complex nature of the nutrition transition, harnessing the potential of existing and new agriculture and food policies can be critical in staving off the nutrition transition problem.

In a recent review published in Agriculture and Food Security, we assessed the nutrition sensitivity of food and agriculture policies in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, and South Africa to understand the challenges and opportunities in improving nutrition outcomes. Through the review of 30 policy documents, we found several critical paths to boost nutrition-sensitive agriculture in staving off the nutrition transition.


  1. Give more attention to micronutrient-rich food production: Governments should support policies that promote the production and diversification of micronutrient-rich foods and need to move beyond the production of staple crops and integrate strategies to promote micronutrient-rich foods.

  2. Encourage agriculture policies with nutrition priorities. Many opportunities exist to strengthen value chains to encourage the production and consumption of nutritious foods.

  3. Improve market access for smallholder farmers. Due to the need for service delivery models specific to connected and remote farms, governments must improve market access for smallholder farmers through effective strategies and policies to reinforce nutrition-sensitive agriculture and infrastructure development.

  4. Strengthen multi-sector collaboration to improve nutrition. Multi-sector collaboration must be strengthened as it fosters an enabling environment for successfully implementing nutrition-sensitive policies and programs to address the multifaceted nature of nutrition challenges by integrating program design, implementation, and monitoring across sectors.



Nutrition-sensitive agriculture hasn’t been receiving enough attention, however, policymakers are beginning to recognize the importance of leveraging the agricultural sector to address issues of malnutrition in SSA. For example, policymakers developed Ethiopia’s Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture Strategy which prioritizes nutrition-sensitive strategies to overcome malnutrition. Another example is Benin’s Action Plan for Food and Nutrition in Agricultural Sector (2015) which contains a strong focus on nutrition sensitive agriculture by including explicit nutrition objectives, promoting the production of diverse food crops, working in partnership with other sectors, and expanding the market access for vulnerable groups.

Nutrition-sensitive agriculture strategies must be incorporated to move the needle and improve SSA people’s nutritional status and health.


The full article has been published as Asirvatham, R., Demi, S.M. & Ezezika, O. Are sub-Saharan African national food and agriculture policies nutrition-sensitive? A case study of Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, and South Africa. Agric & Food Secur 11, 60 (2022).


strawberries being picked
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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