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Keeping track of the impacts of nutrition sensitive inclusive businesses

Sustainable food systems form the basis for availability of nutritious food from global to household level. Nutrition sensitive inclusive businesses hold great potential for improvement of food and nutrition security among BoP consumers. Keeping track of effects among this target group will feed improvement of approaches and justify investments from private as well as public actors.

Malnutrition remains a global challenge, especially for Base of the Pyramid (BoP) consumers which include a large number of smallholder producers in the global south. This is highlighted by the central place of nutrition within the Sustainable Development Goals and the instalment of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, starting as of 2016. The Global Nutrition Report 2015 laid down the evidence that ‘good nutrition’ is an essential driver of overall sustainable development and highlighted the importance of increasing accountability 

Take into account the whole food system

Source: Marijke de Graaf, ICCO Cooperation, 2016

Food system

This figure shows the relationship between food systems and the components or ‘pre-conditions’ for food and nutrition security. It should be noted that availability and access to nutritious food does not automatically lead to proper diets and utilisation of food. In addition to access and availability, awareness, knowledge, attitudes and practices play a crucial role. Information on all these elements is important. First of all for proper focus and targeting and secondly to keep track of the effects.

Accountability mechanism

Businesses play a crucial role for all components of food systems and for the food and nutrition situation of consumers and small scale producers at the BoP. Businesses, either small, medium or large, determine, to a great extent, the availability and access of nutritious foods, both by involvement in production, processing and marketing of food as well as by providing jobs and income generating opportunities. However, business can also be counterproductive, e.g. by negatively influencing public policy or in marketing and promoting products that potentially interfere with a healthy diet, such as breast-milk substitutes or foods high in fat, sugars, and sodium.

The line between positive and negative effects on nutrition is not always easy to draw. Therefore accountability mechanisms, based on robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, are vital to assess the effects of both private  as well as public initiatives towards improving nutrition. They are needed to help increase positive actions for nutrition and decrease actions with a potentially negative effect.  As a starting point it is important to have clarity on the different result chains with preconditions for nutrition outcomes. Below the simplified framework as used by FAO is shown, providing a starting point for more specific analysis.

Impact pathway framework of investments projects

Consumer insights

Besides these results and preconditions, consumption patterns are also influenced by more irrational factors, e.g. based on aspirations or risk reduction. Increased availability and accessibility of a variety of nutritious food does not automatically lead to improved nutrition among all household members. Intra household dynamics play an important role in decisions about diets and might impede nutrition improvement. In many cases, women do not have equal access to and control over household income. Information on the actual food and nutrition security situation of targeted groups as well as insights in consumer behavior has proven to be important for effective behavioral change communication and marketing.  

At ICCO Cooperation we use a combination of the so-called Household Food Insecurity Access Scale ( HFIAS)[1] the Dietary Diversity Score (DDS) for women of reproductive age and/or for children , intra household decision-making and time allocation among women. These indicators have been developed and validated with support from actors such as FAO and IFPRI, which provides for solid technical guidelines and improving benchmarks.

The HFIAS is a household-level survey instrument, which assesses whether households have experienced problems with accessing food during the previous 30 days. Comparing baseline, midterm and/or end-line results provides insights on changes in access to food at household level.

In low-income settings, households typically subsist on monotonous staple-based diets. Characterising people’s diets is an important starting point to identify (market-based) interventions involving specific foods. Such foods could include animal-source foods, fruits and vegetables, bio-fortified crops, and nutritious but neglected and underutilised crop species (including pulses, grains, and other indigenous foods). The DDS is very useful for characterising diets of target groups and examining changes in their diet over time.

The position, influence and situation of women is directly linked with the food security situation of themselves and their children. Evidence has shown that empowering women for their multiple roles and responsibilities has a positive effect on local food systems, household food security and nutritional status. Based on IFPRI research around the so-called women’s empowerment in agriculture index we apply indicators that provide insights on ‘household decision-making’, ‘time allocation’ and access to and control over productive resources such as land.

Data monitoring

For data gathering, processing and analysis we make use of AKVO FLOW and related tools. Data collection is done by mobile devices, which caters for collection of geo location and access to real time data. The data provides insights into the situation of BoP consumers, their challenges and needs, even more so when data sets are cross linked. This basic set of indicators can easily be complemented with more specified or contextualised questions, providing more insights on, for example, aspirations of targeted consumers. The geo location makes it possible to plot results, e.g. HFIAS scores on a geographical map as demonstrated below.  

HFIAS scores rural households in Assam, India from February 2016

Map Assam

Source: Martijn Marijnis, ICCO Cooperation, 2016

The geo location also facilitates longitudinal data gathering among the same households and/or individuals. This provides information for an on-going process of checking whether a) the things are done in the right way, b) the right things are done and c) the assumptions and theory of change are (still) correct?  

We believe data is crucial for the effective implementation of private sector interventions at the Base of the Pyramid. The indicators and data gathering tools presented above could contribute to data-driven development of nutrition sensitive and inclusive business cases.

[1] USAID, Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance Project (FANTA). Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) for Measurement of Food Access: Indicator Guide, version 3, 2007