The Negative Side of the Agricultural‐Nutrition Impact Pathways: A Literature Review

Published date01 March 2015
Date01 March 2015
World Food Policy - Volume 2, Number 1 - Spring 2015
I - Introduction
There is a quite large and global
consensus concerning the
necessity to reinforce investments
and interventions in farming and
animal husbandry to achieve food and
nutrition security. Agricultural policies,
particularly those designed to support
small farmers, play a fundamental role
in the ght against undernutrition.
Following the 2008 food price crisis and
the series of articles on maternal and
child undernutrition published in e
Lancet in 2008 and in 2013, there has been
renewed interest in how agriculture aects
nutrition. Ruel, Alderman, and Maternal
and Child Nutrition Study Group (2013)
showed that it is necessary to develop
the so-called “nutrition-sensitive
interventions, as specic interventions
are insucient. Recent reviews of the
literature (such as those of Masset et
al. 2012) have endeavored to identify
the eects of agricultural development
interventions (ADI) on nutrition, and put
forward recommendations to make them
nutrition sensitive.
Agricultural development interventions and policies have an impact on the
nutrition of individuals through changes in food availability, in food diversity,
in food prices, and changes in farmers’ income. Less straightforward, they also
entail many changes in health environment and in time availability for care
activities. ey nally have impacts on the balance of power both at the intra-
household, community, and global levels. e impact pathways are complex
and interlinked, and many recent studies have primarily focused on their
positive eects. However, some agricultural interventions might have a negative
impact on nutrition in certain cases. is article sets out to identify them,
through a review of the scientic and institutional literature, along with expert
interviews. Six risk categories are proposed, relative to incomes, prices, types
of products, womens social status and workload, the health environment, and
inequalities. is review underlines the necessity to have an ex ante analysis of
the nutrition impacts of any food or agricultural policy or intervention with “do
not harm approach” regarding the nutrition outcomes. It gives clues to identify
and mitigate the main negative outcome and advocate for more applied and
well-documented research on that topic.
Keywords: nutrition, agriculture, pathways, impact, development
Sandrine Dury,A Arlène AlphaB & Anne BichardC
e Negative Side of the Agricultural–Nutrition Impact
Pathways: A Literature Review
A CIRAD, UMR MOISA, F-34398 Montpellier, France
B CIRAD, UMR MOISA, F-34398 Montpellier, France
C Consultante Indépendante, Ex chef de Mission Action Contre la Faim au Burkina Faso
e Negative Side of the Agricultural–Nutrition Impact Pathways: A Literature Review
It is interesting to underline
the fact that these studies sought the
positive eects of interventions, while
agricultural interventions may also have
negative eects, as the impact pathways
are complex and interlocking. Taking a
“do no harm” lens, based on the existing
literature and interviews with experts, this
article proposes to shed some light on the
risks that ADIs might entail for nutrition.
e article sets out to inventory potential
risks, without assessing neither the reality
of the threats nor their relative weight,
which greatly depends on the intervention
contexts. It proposes conceptual guidelines
for agricultural policy or project designers
to assess ex ante likely impacts and to
mitigate the possible drawbacks of their
e followed methodology of
data collection and analysis is detailed
in Section II. Section III illustrates the
dierent pathways from agriculture to
nutrition. Six dierent risks are identied
and developed in section IV. Discussion
and conclusion are the last two sections.
II - Methodology
Starting from the dierent recent
reports (Webb 2013; World Bank
2007, 2013; du Vachat and ACF
2013), conference presentations (Headey
2013; Hoddinott 2012), books (Fan and
Pandya-Lorch 2012), and scientic papers
(Masset et al. 2012; Ruel, Alderman, and
Maternal and Child Nutrition Study Group
2013; Berti, Krasevec, and FitzGerald
2004) concerning the eect of agriculture
on nutrition, we followed a backward
snowball methodology, identifying each
paper or author, who was quoted about a
possible negative causality. In addition, we
interviewed 15 colleagues, from dierent
backgrounds: history, human nutrition
and epidemiology, agricultural economics
or agronomy from Food and Agriculture
Organization - FAO, Action Against
Hunger (Action Contre la Faim in French
– ACF), Institut de Recherche pour le
Développement - IRD, and Centre de
coopération Internationale en Recherche
Agronomique pour le Développement
- Cirad about their knowledge of
existing literature or empirical evidences
concerning a possible negative eect of
certain types of projects or policies on
Altogether, we gathered 171
dierent documents, in English and in
French, all written between 1980 and 2013.
We excluded from this stock of documents
all references presenting neutral impacts
of ADIs on nutrition or stating impacts
are not necessarily positive but without
specifying impacts are negative. It
appears that studies documenting
specically the negative impacts of ADIs
on nutrition were scarce and relatively
old (e.g. those published by Von Braun
and Kennedy 1986; 1994). For example,
despite a number of studies highlighting
the limitations of biofortication and
questioning its relevance as a “silver bullet
solution” compared to dietary diversity
(e.g., Keatinge et al. 2011; Brooks 2010,
Kimura 2013), it has been dicult to
nd references clearly showing negative
impacts on nutrition. Consequently,
articles revealing negative links between
agriculture and certain key variables
for nutrition were also taken into
consideration, even though the impact
pathways did not extend all the way to
nutrition. We then included references
presenting negative impacts of ADIs on

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