Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hidden Hunger: How much can farming really improve people's health (Short Article)

 From the article:

In 2008 the Copenhagen Business School asked eight eminent economists to imagine they had $75 billion to spend on causes that would most help the world. Five of their top ten involved nutrition: vitamin supplements for children, adding zinc and iodine to salt and breeding extra micronutrients into crops (like those sweet potatoes). Others included girls’ schools and trade liberalisation.

The missing nutrients bite wide and deep. Education levels drop (malnourished children concentrate poorly); earning-power weakens. Even marriage chances wane: malnourished boys marry women of lower educational levels when they grow up.

The success stories are instructive. In 1990 a charitable organisation called Helen Keller International started to encourage market gardens in Bangladesh, providing women (mostly) with seeds and advice. By 2003 (the year of the latest available research), four-fifths of families in the target area had gardens, against 15% in the whole country. Almost all women and children were eating green vegetables three times a week, compared with only a third beforehand. And vitamin A intake had soared. Projects like this work because they improve what people like to eat anyway.

Policymakers can also try to increase women’s control over farming decisions (in some countries, only men may own land or get agricultural credit, for instance). They could boost research into more nutritious non-staple crops; and provide clean water and better transport, which especially benefits kitchen gardeners, because their produce goes off. 

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