Reshaping agriculture for better nutrition: Crawford Fund conference

August 24th, 2018

Dr Mario Herrero, Dr Jessica Bogard, Ms Alison Laing and Ms Jeda Palmer from the CSIRO Global Food and Nutrition Security group, along with visiting scientist, Professor Margaret Gill from the University of Aberdeen participated in the 2018 Crawford Fund annual conference – Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition: The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus – in Canberra on 13-14 August.

We joined international and Australian specialists to consider how to reshape agriculture to address the increasingly urgent and competing needs of the hungry and the over-nourished, and the finite resources of our environment.

This topic is highly relevant to our groups work that aims to develop strategies for agricultural systems to better nourish a growing global population – an area that we believe deserves considerable attention.

Dr Jessica Bogard, our Nutrition Systems Scientist, congratulated the conference on its chosen topic at the beginning of her talk – Small Fish, Big Impact. She recalled that she had first attended the Crawford Fund conference in 2014 as a scholar, while completing her PhD.  At that time, the theme of the conference was around ‘feeding the 9 billion’ with an emphasis on quantity; in contrast to the theme this year, which really emphasised nutritional quality.

Dr Mario Herrero chaired the first session of the conference, where complex issues associated with feeding a growing global population with healthy food from a healthy planet were highlighted by Dr Alessandro Demaio, Chief Executive Officer at the EAT foundation. He highlighted the double burden of malnutrition – currently 800 million go to bed hungry and two billion are overweight or obese – and the pressing need for nutrition to be an integral part of our food systems. See Dr Alessandro Demaio discussing this below.

Following this talk, Dr Jessica Fanzo, co-chair of the Global Nutrition Report and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University discussed the challenges and impacts of poor nutrition. We were honoured that she drew on our group’s research on child growth failure in Africa and the societal costs to overcome malnutrition to augment her presentation.

Professor Margaret Gill chaired the following session that identified how agriculture can respond to the nutrition challenge. Professor Andrew Campbell, Chief Executive Officer from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) provided an overview. Following this several case studies were presented. These included Dr Anna Okello from ACIAR highlighting the role of the livestock sector in human health and nutrition and Dr Marco Wopereis from the World Vegetable Centre showcasing the nutritional power of vegetables.

Then came the solutions: diverse and innovative approaches to increase nutrition globally. We discovered how educational games for children in Papua New Guinea, iron biofortified cereals in Africa, and nutrition-sensitive fish agri-food systems in Bangladesh all have a role to play in creating more nutritious food systems.

Dr Jessica Bogard and WorldFish colleague Dr Shamia Chowdhury articulated that fish can play a vital role in improving the nutritional quality of diets for the poor and offer a unique opportunity to address food security and malnutrition. They highlighted that it is important that small indigenous fish species are not overlooked.

“Nutrient composition analysis has shown wide variability in the nutritional value of different fish species, with small indigenous fish species being a particularly rich source of iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and other micronutrients, in comparison to commonly farmed species,” said Dr Jessica Bogard.

To conclude the conference, the ministerial address by Hon Julie Bishop MP, the Minister for Foreign Affairs emphasised that we all benefit from the research in developing countries saying that for every $1 that we invest in foreign aid, we receive $7 back from an increase in exports.

Finally, Professor Robyn Alders, AO provided concluding remarks, identifying the best ways for agriculture to promote healthy diets, what behaviours have to change, and what policy leavers need to be assisted to achieve this.

Photo credit: Jeda Palmer and the Crawford Fund.