The nexus of Agriculture and Nutrition programming through Women’s Economic Empowerment is increasingly recognized as important to achieve the United Nations (UN) broad goal of multi-sectoral Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) integration, making agricultural market development activities gender-responsive and more nutrition-sensitive.

Both agricultural market development, gender and nutrition activities have their own established principles, standards, and practices. When the two disciplines come together in design and implementation, there are two notable results:

  • Areas of convergence: where the principles or practices of agricultural market development, gender and nutrition activities are complementary and create synergy;
  • Areas of tension: where the principles or practices of agricultural market development, gender and nutrition activities are at odds.

Areas of potential convergence and tension create opportunities and challenges in the design and implementation of nutrition-sensitive agricultural market development activities through, and-or together with gender-responsive and women’s economic empowerment programming.

Many of development partners’ beneficiaries are women and children who live in households that lack sufficient resources, and-or finance, are risk-averse, or have opportunity costs that preclude them from participating in agricultural market development activities.

Agricultural market development activities work with a range of private and public sector market actors, but typically target smallholder farmers producing, or having the potential to produce, a marketable surplus. Market systems development activities use household dialogue and community facilitation, as an implementation approach, which generally includes encouraging the self-selection of participants; for example, smallholder farmers opt into interventions and invest their own time and resources to access activity support and services. Those who self-select are typically less economically vulnerable and more able to assume risk and investments. A focus on marketable surplus and use of self-selection for agricultural market development activities, therefore, often excludes the poorest households.

Women’s economic empowerment is a key “pathway” to improved household nutrition

The pathway consists of three interrelated components: women’s use of income for food and non-food expenditures, the ability of women to care for themselves and their families, and women’s (basic services, energy, water, education) expenditures.

Improving the productivity, incomes, skills, and knowledge of (female) smallholder farmers through agricultural market development activities should improve incomes as well as the nutritional status of their household members, including those who fall within the most nutritionally vulnerable groups. However, the causal link between improvements in productivity, incomes, skills, and knowledge at the smallholder farmer level and improvements in household members’ nutritional status cannot be assumed.

Self-selection into agriculture market development activities is an imperfect way to target nutrition activities. Resource-poor mothers and caregivers and their households may benefit from more incomes, and a greater availability and/or lower cost of nutritious foods as a result of agricultural development activities, others may benefit as labourers or service providers, but a typical agriculture activity will fail to reach many nutritionally vulnerable women from the poorest households. Market development and nutrition-sensitive agricultural activities both target men and women to ensure that women are economically empowered but not overburdened with responsibilities for productive activities (e.g. agricultural labour and income generation) as well as reproductive activities (e.g. food preparation and child care).

Although there is often overlap between the economically vulnerable people participating in market development activities and people who are nutritionally vulnerable, the two groups are not the same. Activities, therefore, need to clearly define target populations, and understand the ways in which they are vulnerable. Where there is overlap between people who are economically and nutritionally vulnerable, activities to mitigate these two vulnerabilities should be co-located.

Push/Pull Approach

A push/pull approach sequences and layers both push strategies (to build the capacities of the extreme poor to engage in markets) and pull strategies (to expand the diversity and quality of economic opportunities accessible to them). Push strategies include interventions to build household or community assets, improve linkages to social protection, build market readiness skills, and strengthen household capacity to manage risk (e.g. through savings mechanisms). Pull strategies include interventions to lower barriers to market entry (e.g. through group purchasing and marketing), extend services (e.g. developing financing solutions or input-supply agent networks), improve working conditions, and strengthen market demand for products that can be supplied by the poor (Garloch 2015).

Development programs aim to limit the risk missing members of the poorest households in their interventions and agricultural market development activities. However, the proportion of cross-targeting often depends on local circumstances, which are determined through a context analysis.

This is an area where Development Connect can support.

Nutrition-sensitive agricultural market development activities should make full use of available context-assessment tools, including salient tools from other sectors, such as health, education, and conflict prevention and mitigation, to understand the dynamics that influence decisions on agricultural enterprise selection and household diet composition.

Nutrition-sensitive agricultural market development activities should include interventions that reduce risk for the poorest households and facilitate access to investment resources, including social capital. Approaches like the “push/pull” described above can be helpful in this regard.

Since the beneficiaries of agriculture activities extend beyond (female) smallholder farmers to service providers, labourers, and consumers, the value chain selection process should pay attention to nutrition gaps in the local diet, as well as to job creation potential for economically vulnerable households. Activities may need to build market demand for nutritious food, rather than only responding to existing market opportunities. This may involve consumer awareness campaigns, marketing promotions, and alliances with influential public and private sector value chain actors (such as school feeding programs and retail chains). Building market demand is a long-term and potentially risky investment, however, as food choices are influenced by a wide range of social and economic factors.

Such investments should, therefore, be informed by (capacity) analysis for which the program could seek partnerships as the program had not been set up to be engaged in those types of interventions.

Development Connect can provide Gender and Partnerships guidelines, approaches and tools to support such.

Including both men and women in nutrition-sensitive agricultural market development activities offers an opportunity to move beyond targeting only households and their constituent members, or value chains and the firms that operate within them. Instead, nutrition-sensitive agricultural market development activities should consider the resources, constraints, and incentives of households, communities and market systems, and how these various levels interact. For example, changes in household consumption are unlikely to be sustained without community support or access to the market channels to buy nutritious foods or the inputs to grow them.

Nutrition activities generally work through a cascade approach, by training government staff, local trainers, and community leaders who then educate the target population. Nutrition activities commonly draw on and strengthen public and private sector and community-based service delivery mechanisms and socially based incentives to foster widespread behaviour change. These mechanisms tend to require multiple direct interactions with target beneficiaries and households as well as targeted interventions to support the enabling environment. Agricultural market development activities work, to the extent possible, through existing market actors. They are implemented mainly through private sector firms, and leverage commercial incentives to create improvements or change. In this way, activities attempt to stimulate a change process that is locally owned and driven without directly interacting with target farmers or beneficiaries. However, in environments where the private sector is weak and smallholders are an unattractive consumer base, activities may also include actions to directly build the capacity of farmer groups and service providers.

Decisions about which staff are hired and which partners are engaged are determined by two factors: public versus private sector service delivery mechanisms and direct versus indirect interaction with target beneficiaries. Community-oriented staff are often ill-equipped to interact with private businesses, while private sector-oriented staff may not have the profile for effective community engagement. This can lead to a divided implementation approach.

When nutrition-sensitive agricultural market development activities try to work with the public sector, there may be tension between the ministries of agriculture and health, especially in an environment of inadequate support at the highest levels for collaborative planning and resource allocation. Donor funding, similarly, is often designated as supporting either health or agriculture, which can lead to a divided approach to implementation, further challenging any efforts to collaborate around or combine nutrition and agriculture interventions.

Both nutrition and agricultural market development activities seek to change behaviour and improve practices. Both types of activities consider the underlying causes of current behaviour, incentives, and tangible and intangible barriers to the adoption of recommended behaviours. Furthermore, both types of activities want the behaviour change process to be driven by local actors to ensure sustainability. Evidence shows that effective and sustainable behaviour change requires more than a household-by-household approach; change needs to be systemic, affecting social norms, structures, and institutions.

When activities promote different behaviours to overlapping groups of people, tensions may arise and cause confusion or overwhelm participants or partners. Using agricultural extension agents to reinforce nutrition messages or community health workers to remind participants of key agricultural behaviours may or may not be successful or logical, depending on the context. Market development programs use a facilitation approach via private sector firms to change the behaviour of various actors, including smallholder farmers. While such firms often have commercial incentives to promote improved production and market behaviours, they may lack the incentive to promote improved nutrition unless a clear business case can be made.

Contact us at Development Connect to find out how we can support development partners to assess, design, help strategize, monitor and evaluate, capture learnings, and-or play a role in awareness raising, advocacy, engage with capacity development implementation and other areas.

This blog was inspired by a USAID discussion paper: