Rationale: Malnutrition remains one of the world’s greatest human and economic development challenges in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every four children under the age of five suffers from stunting, or chronic malnutrition, which is caused by poor diets, inappropriate care and feeding practices in early life, and high rates of infectious diseases (WHO, 2002). Zambia is not an exception. The country has one of the highest rates of child stunting in the world which has become a leading cause of disease and child mortality. Despite uninterrupted agricultural growth averaging 6% with significant increases in production of maize, the staple crop, undernutrition has remained high. Nearly 50% of children below the age of five have stunted growth (LCMS, 2010). According to WHO’s severity index, Zambia is rated “critical” or “very high” for stunting, “medium” for wasting and “serious” or “high” for underweight. Additionally, an estimated 10% to 13% of children born in Zambia have low birthrate which is linked to poor maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy (WHO, 2002). The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) deadline is in less than a year. Based on the 2010 nutritional status, it is unlikely that Zambia will achieve the MDG of halving child malnutrition.
Several studies on the impact of agricultural policy exist for Zambia but they typically focus on the impact of productivity, incomes and/or poverty (e.g Mason et al 2013, Hichaambwa and Jayne, 2014) while very few on nutritional outcomes (e.g. Mofya-Mukuka and Kulhgatz, 2014). Given the success stories of Brazil and China, the goal of eliminating hunger and malnutrition is attainable. However, to attain this goal there is need for nutrition-sensitive agricultural policies, the right investment and the right supporting legal framework. So far, the Zambia nutrition policy developed in 2009 does not provide a clear direction on how agriculture interventions can attain this goal.
The link between the agricultural growth and the nutritional status especially in children remains a paradox for the country. To understand this link, in-depth research which examines agricultural productivity in the context of food and nutrition security is necessary. The research will require a holistic approach on that analysis of agricultural growth, nutrient supply and consumption covering the four pillars of food security, namely food availability, food access, food stability and food utilization and focusing on the market, household and individual levels.
In the past IAPRI has focused its research mainly on agriculture, food security and poverty reduction without dealing with nutrition issues. This new thematic area has been added in order to contribute to improved nutrition in Zambia through provision of evidence-based research findings which are critical for policy formulation. In particular, IAPRI’s research under this thematic area will aim to: 1) deliver novel conclusions and formulate policy options on food supply, access and utilization in Zambia and nutritional effects; b) Identify barriers to food and nutrition security among rural smallholder households and; c) measure and monitor nutritional outcomes .
Research Priorities: Research under this thematic area will fall into four sub-themes, a) Agricultural production and nutrition, b) Food access, markets and nutrition, c) Food access, markets and nutrition, and d) Agriculture risks on nutrition and health.