International Women’s Day: In the fight against malnutrition, empower women’s groups first

As International Women’s Day—with the theme “Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives”—approaches, IFPRI is examining the role of rural women activists in bringing change to nutrition and food systems worldwide. The first of two posts.

The transformative role of women’s groups is drawing rising attention around the world. By organizing, women have been able to achieve change within their communities, households, and themselves—despite obstacles such as restrictive gender norms that limit the scope of their decision-making, legal systems that prohibit them from owning property, and domestic responsibilities that limit their ability to earn income and even to rest and take care of their own health.

Sam Scott/IFPRI
Members of a women's self-help group at a meeting in the Dindori district in Madhya Pradesh, India.

Development organizations are increasingly focusing antipoverty and nutrition initiatives around women’s groups. Will these groups prove to be the secret ingredient to solve the global problems of hunger and malnutrition? Our recent review of the linkages between women’s groups and nutrition outcomes in South Asia sheds light on this important question.

In societies with entrenched gender norms, working through women’s groups helps women build social capital and empower themselves. Organizing in this way helps make women more aware of their rights, builds trust in the group and within the community, provides platforms for collective action, and promotes the active role of women as community leaders. The latter is especially relevant to health and nutrition outcomes, as women often act as the keepers of local norms that guide nutritional behavior—including, but not limited to dietary diversity, infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices, sanitation and hygiene, and access to and utilization of health services. Real solutions to undernutrition emerge when women are connected and given the chance to lead.

Women’s groups help improve health and nutrition outcomes through one or more of four distinct pathways: Increased savings and greater purchasing power; engagement in agriculture; behavior change communication (BCC) to generate knowledge sharing around health and nutrition; and improved community engagement, resulting in social accountability and community demand for government programs focused on nutrition. Common to all these pathways are three elements: Building social capital, acting collectively, and empowering women themselves.
The strength and connections of women’s groups, which often convene conversations around challenges ranging from health to the workplace, are increasingly recognized as a point of entry for effective development initiatives worldwide. Many development organizations are betting on the power of these groups in getting results. India’s National Rural Livelihoods Mission is delivering anti-poverty programs through women’s self-help group platforms, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has already formally recognized the effectiveness of mobilizing women’s groups in improving newborn health, for example.

However, serious gaps remain in research around how women’s groups impact nutrition and health, and direct links are still coming into focus. Few studies have explicitly targeted the crucial 1000-day window for nutrition impacts on children or focused on other nutritionally-vulnerable age groups, perhaps even fewer are based on more reliable data gleaned from randomized controlled trials, and only one study has provided evidence on the multiple pathways from women’s groups to nutrition.

While it is clear that programs targeting women’s groups have significant potential to address malnutrition, not all groups are structured in the same way, nor do they all achieve success. In our examination of 36 studies, the programs that led to positive changes in behaviors related to nutrition all had an explicit nutrition objective.

To take root and address nutritional challenges, we write, women’s organizations “must effectively enable basic tenets of group-based engagement such as building social capital, promoting women's empowerment, and advocating to community leaders.” Finally, their efforts must be focused on changing behavior around nutrition.

As we continue to learn about the role of women’s groups in addressing malnutrition, one thing is abundantly clear: Women have already proven themselves to be catalysts for community development. Now is the time to support the process that these women, working together to improve their lives, have begun.

Neha Kumar and Agnes Quisumbing are Senior Research Fellows in IFPRI's Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division. This blog was originally posted on

Is dietary quality in Nepal improving?

Women farmers in Nepal

Nutritional deficiency is a major concern in achieving sustainable food and nutrition security, especially in the South Asian nations. Nutritional deficiency, also known as “hidden hunger” is very common in these countries where people’s diet is largely dominated by starchy staples. The macro nutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) and micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are essential for our metabolism, growth,

and physical and mental well-being. The major source of these nutrients is our diet and hence the quality of diet largely determines the intake of these nutrients. Dietary diversity is one of the indicators which can assess the dietary quality and also the extent to which our nutritional needs are met. A recent study conducted by IFPRI tries to explore the dietary diversity and the food expenditure patterns for households in Nepal using data from the Nepal Living Standards Survey (NLSS).

The findings of the study suggests that many sociodemographic and economic factors determine the dietary diversity and quality of diet of the people in Nepal. Historically, Nepal has been known as an impoverished country with poor nutrition indicators. However, in recent years it has shown the fastest rate of reduction in child stunting, in the world. Lately, there has been many positive changes such as reduction in the share of food expenditure devoted to staples, which has dropped by 32 percent between 1995 and 2011. Though still the largest share of food expenditure is on cereals yet there has been a significant increase in the expenditure on fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products.

Research shows that dietary diversity was seen more in the urban areas because of the better access to markets in comparison to their rural counterparts. The diets of small and marginal farmers were more cereal-dominated. Ethnicity also influenced the choice of food items and the Brahmins had the most diversified diet compared to the other unprivileged ethnic groups.

The study revealed that factors like poverty, educational status, ethnicity and access to basic facilities, all have a bearing on the kind of diet one consumes. The households receiving greater remittances, having higher income, better education and increased access to facilities would have more diversified diet and vice versa.

This implies that efforts are needed to adopt a multisectoral approach in order to deal with the nutritional security. Measures like social cash transfers could improve the situation for better. Initiatives to improve literacy levels and increase access to basic facilities need to be further scaled up. Special programs to improve nutritional security among the unprivileged ethnic groups must be implemented. Further fragmentation of land needs to be stopped and simple measures such as kitchen gardening need to be encouraged. A comprehensive strategy, including all the plausible factors that impact dietary diversity, needs to be put in place in order to deal with the dreadful hidden hunger.

SAFANSI Roundtable: A Focus on Government Action for Nutrition in South Asia

High-level summary: The event will draw on the latest evidence and experience from current nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific programs, and will explore the implications for acting at scale with such interventions, including financing, return on investment, communication, advocacy, monitoring and evaluation dimensions. 

Date: September 7-8, 2017 | Kathmandu, Nepal |Hotel Yak and Yeti

Objective:  Advance multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral national and subnational efforts to address nutrition as a priority and scale up nutrition efforts together.  Additionally, address budgeting for nutrition at the regional, country and subnational level, including domestic, public and private financing.

Outcome: Key public sector, business, donor and civil society decision makers raise the profile of nutrition in their home countries and find effective ways to work together.

Participants: A mixed group of policy and program planners, and nutrition experts, working with the following institutions:

  • The target participants are Chairs (or designated senior staff) of Planning Commissions at the national and subnational levels, or equally senior government officials who are responsible for addressing malnutrition for their government.
  • Speakers/panelists should be drawn from government ministries, relevant research organizations, civil society, donor organizations, and private sector.
  • Additional invitations will go to:
    • Policy makers/Politicians
    • Civil Society and Nutrition Focused Organizations (SUN, SNV, Nutrition International (NI), GAIN, etc.)
    • Donor organizations (DFID, EC, DFAT, USAID, etc.)
    • Relevant UN organizations (UNICEF, WFP, WHO, FAO, UNDP)
    • International and regional NGOs (SUN, LANSA, GFAR, SAARC, etc.)
    • Research institutions (LANSA, IFPRI, etc.)

More details

Trends in Nutrition Outcomes and Determinants in India

Source: Rasmi Avula/IFPRI

Cross-posted from India Food Security Portal 

While India has made significant progress in nutrition incomes for women and children over the past ten years, this progress has not been uniform across states, and several regions still lag behind national nutrition and health trends and program implementation.

This is according to the latest research from POSHAN, published in a recent paper covering nutrition trends and determinants in the country from 2006-2016. The report utilizes data from India’s National Family Health Surveys for 2005-2006 and 2015-2016 and the2013-2015 Rapid Survey on Children, as well as a comprehensive review of India’s policies and programs aimed at improving women’s and children’s nutrition outcomes. The paper also examined levels and changes in immediate, underlying, and basic determinants of nutrition and health, based on indicators and formulas taken from UNICEF.

According to the report’s findings, India as a whole has seen substantial progress on a number of nutrition and health incomes over the past decade. Child stunting fell from 48 percent to 38.4 percent, and child underweight rates also declined from 42.5 percent to 37.5 percent. The use of exclusive breastfeeding increased by almost 9 percentage points, and low birthweights in children fell from 21.5 percent to 18.6 percent.

However, national levels of wasting in children increased during the study period, from 19.8 percent to 21 percent. The rates of anemia in women, a major health challenge in India, remained fairly stagnant during the study period; anemia continues to impact almost half of Indian women of reproductive age.

Nationally, the underlying determinants of nutrition improved during the study period. The report finds improvements in women’s education levels and marriage age, both of which impact women’s overall well-being. The number of women with 10 or more years of education grew by 10 –percentage points, while the number of girls getting married before the age of 18 fell by 20 percentage points. The study also reports an increase in access to electricity, safe drinking water, and improved sanitation facilities. However, the authors also emphasize that further efforts and investments are needed in these areas, particularly education and sanitation, in order to ensure continued inclusive improvements in health and nutrition outcomes.

The immediate determinants of nutrition – such as early use of breastfeeding, timely introduction of complementary foods for children, and children’s disease burden – saw mixed results during the study period. Women with low BMI declined from 35.5 percent to 22.9 percent, nationally. The number of women breastfeeding their infants doubled from 23.4 percent to 41.6 percent, but the introduction of appropriate complementary foods for older children declined from 52.6 percent to 42.7 percent. The disease burden for children (including diarrhea and acute respiratory infections) remains low, but did not change much over the study period; thus, further efforts to prevent childhood illnesses are needed to “move the dial” on that indicator.

National coverage of nutrition-specific interventions, such as programs to provide iron-folic acid supplements to pregnant women and immunizations and vitamin A supplements to infants and children, improved throughout the period. However, overall coverage of food supplementation programs (during pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood) remains at only 40-50 percent. In fact, of the 12 nutrition-specific interventions reviewed by the report, only three (institutional delivery, skilled birth attendance, and birth registration) reached 75 percent. Thus, while India’s two national women and child health programs - the National Health Mission (NHM) and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) – attempted to expand coverage from 2006-2016, challenges clearly remain.  The authors identify these challenges as poor policy guidance, lack of financing, poor state-level implementation, and lack of education or positive perceptions that may impact people’s choices to participate in these interventions.

Read more

Conference: Sustainable Development Goals: Preparedness and Role of Indian Agriculture

Call for Abstracts: Sustainable Development Goals: Preparedness and Role of Indian Agriculture

Source: Flickr (IFPRI) Leveled field being irrigated in eastern Uttar Pradesh, India.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS) are jointly organizing a Conference on “Sustainable Development Goals: Preparedness and Role of Indian Agriculture” on 11-12 May 2017 in NASC Complex, New Delhi, India. The main aim of the conference is to prepare a roadmap for Indian agriculture to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) before 2030.

Globally, poverty and hunger are still twin challenges before human civilization despite specific temporal and spatial efforts. Though extreme poverty has been reduced by more than half since 1992, yet more than 1 billion people live on less than $ 1 a day.  To continue the global collective efforts of Millennium Development Goals, countries adopted renewed set of goals to end poverty and protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of new SDGs. There are 17 SDGs and four are directly related to agriculture: “no poverty”, “zero hunger”, “climate action”, and “life on land”.

Agriculture plays an important role for the livelihood of poor especially in rural areas. However, agriculture sector is currently facing numerous challenges. The question obviously before us is: How can agriculture contribute towards achieving SDGs? What should be the strategy to promote agriculture for achieving SDGs? What lessons other developing countries, especially South Asia, can learn from India or vice-versa?

It is our pleasure to invite you and your colleagues to participate in the conference and contribute abstracts in any of the following topics by 14 April, 2017:

  1. Status of Indicators of SDGs
  • Poverty and hunger
  • Land and water degradation
  • Climate risks
  1. Technologies to Accomplish SDG
  • Genetic enhancement
  • Natural resource management
  • Farm mechanization
  1. Role of Policies and Institutions
  • Backend service system
  • Agricultural marketing and food retailing
  • Agriculture-nutrition linkages
  1. Best Practices in Developing Countries
  • South Asia
  • Southeast Asia
  • Africa

We shall appreciate if you circulate the invitation letter to your colleagues and students for participation and contribution. You can send in 300 words abstract mentioning the topic under which abstract is submitted with complete details of the corresponding author to Vaishali Dassani (

Concept Note - March 22, 2017

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