Wednesday, 14 October 2015

World Food Week: The importance of an interdisciplinary approach to food security

As the world acknowledges World Food Week this week (12–16 October), it is a timely reminder to recognise world food problems and the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. This year’s theme of ‘Social protection and agriculture: breaking the cycle of rural poverty’ complements a recent visit to ACIAR by four women who are involved in interdisciplinary research on food security.

Left to right: Ir Sarini Niputu, Dr Wende Maulaga, Dr Hilda Lumbwe and Dr Joanita Jong. Credit: ACIAR

In late August, ACIAR was proud to host Ir Sarini Niputu (Udayana University, Bali, Indonesia), Dr Joanita Jong (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Timor-Leste), Dr Wende Maulaga (Tanzania Veterinary Laboratory Agency, Tanzania) and Dr Hilda Lumbwe (Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Zambia). The researchers presented a lunchtime seminar to ACIAR staff on their project experiences relating to food and nutritional security, gender (coincidently, tomorrow is also International Day of Rural Women), and family poultry.

Source: ACIAR

Wende and Hilda travelled from Tanzania and Zambia, where they are members of the project team for the ACIAR project FSC/2012/023 on ‘Strengthening food and nutrition security through family poultry and crop integration in Tanzania and Zambia’. The project aims to reduce child undernutrition by improving family poultry and crop production, primarily by working through women smallholder farmers. It uses vaccination of poultry against Newcastle disease, which can rapidly kill 90% of unvaccinated birds, as the entry point to improve nutrition and health.

Wende described the multidisciplinary team involved in the project: the project team includes members of the local district, government ministries of agriculture and health, research institutions and universities all working together. Researchers in the team come from a wide range of disciplines and include nurses, doctors, nutritionists, veterinary virologists, veterinary epidemiologists, economists, ecologists, agronomists, sociologists and an anthropologist. The project has already seen the benefits of this interdisciplinary ‘one health’ approach: everyone is on the same page about the project’s objectives and all share a common goal. An example Wende used was that if you involve only one of the group, they may only focus on one area of research or discipline. For example, a veterinary scientist might focus only on improving poultry health without incorporating other influencing factors such as family structure and community norms. Similarly, involving only government ministries may focus on the high level policy issues but miss the on-the-ground perspective needed to implement change and improve livelihoods at the community level.
Source: ACIAR

Hilda then highlighted the daunting figures that of Zambian children aged under 5, about 40% are affected by stunting, 15% are underweight, and 6% are affected by wasting due to nutritional deficiencies. However, malnutrition is a double-edged sword with over-nutrition emerging as a serious problem in cities in Zambia and other developing countries, particularly among children of middle and upper class families who are eating more highly processed foods that do not contain the nutrients they need. As women are largely responsible for household nutrition they are a primary focus for the project. To ensure the best outcomes, the project is working within existing systems by involving the community and local institutions to achieve practical solutions that will influence policymakers. The project is paying close attention to cultural and social norms to get people’s opinions and inputs to ensure interventions meet the needs of the community and improve nutrition and health.

We then heard from Sarini, who spoke on the outcomes of the concluded ACIAR project AH/2006/169 ‘Cost-effective biosecurity for non-industrial commercial poultry operations in Indonesia’. The spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI or ‘bird flu’) in Indonesia has been responsible for high mortality in the poultry sector, decreasing the demand for poultry and poultry products in affected areas. It has also led to human deaths and concerns about the risk of a global pandemic. This project aimed to improve the economic viability of the non-industrial commercial poultry sector (NICPS) through adoption of cost-effective biosecurity measures to reduce the incidence of HPAI and improve food safety by decreasing the incidence of food-borne bacteria and improving the cold chain between farms and retailers.

Improving biosecurity in the poultry sector reduces the likelihood of flocks becoming infected, and thus reduces the risk of large numbers of infected birds being dumped into the market. The project worked across all parts of the value chain from farmers through to supermarkets to ensure chicken and eggs from biosecure farms were available to the public to purchase. Some of the key improvements following the project were an increase in the number of eggs sold, a rise in the price of eggs, and an increased number of biosecure farms.

Source: ACIAR

Joanita then finished off the session by discussing her work in Timor-Leste under the DFAT-funded 'Timor-Leste Village Poultry Health and Biosecurity (VPHB)' program. This program aims to improve poultry production in three pilot villages and to strengthen biosecurity arrangements in Timor-Leste. The three components of the program are improving village poultry health and management, developing effective cold chains for vaccination of poultry against Newcastle disease, and strengthening poultry biosecurity. The project has shown that improving the health of village poultry leads to an increase in animal products available for consumption or sale, which leads to improved standards of living for communities. Poultry plays an important role in food security, and investment in women and girls yields some of the highest returns.

As you can see, there are many ways governments and researchers across disciplines can work together to improve the livelihoods of communities. Although these are just a few examples of the work that is going on, they highlight just how important it is to understand the interdependence that exists between gender roles and nutritional security in developing countries.

So this Friday, on World Food Day, take a moment to think about what a world without hunger would look like and what you can do to achieve it.

By Elise Crabb, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement, ACIAR

For further information on World Food Day and World Food Week, please visit the FAO website: 

For further information on International Day of Rural Women, please visit the UN website:

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