Agriculture for Health
CRS agriculture programming seeks to bring the benefits of good nutrition and clean water to households and communities.
In 2006, FAO reported that more than 850 million people faced acute food insecurity and hunger. In 2003, WHO estimated that over 50% of deaths in poor countries were associated with “hidden malnutrition.” The young are particularly at risk. Up to age 2, poor health and nutrition are linked in a vicious cycle in which malnutrition increases susceptibility to disease, and illness reduces dietary intake, resulting in well-documented patterns of stunting and wasting, and chronic ill- health.
Health, agriculture, and water management sectors need to converge to provide rural and urban households with simple methods to achieve basic levels of safe hygiene and good nutrition. Many poor households face significant barriers to overcoming poor health and nutrition, including lack of knowledge, inadequate resources, and cultural norms that promote suboptimal behaviors. Women’s roles are especially important, as they are responsible for producing and preparing food, fetching water, and general hygiene.
In agriculture, problems of poor nutrition are exacerbated by degraded soils, limited access to clean water, and lack of diversity in crop and livestock products. But often simple new techniques can make people better able to grow their own food, or make enough money to buy more nutritious food. And specific activities can reinforce agricultural programs, such as training in good sanitation practices and basic food safety.
CRS agriculture projects seek to promote health and wellbeing through a variety of strategies, such as:
- Kitchen and community gardens
- Education on labor-saving techniques, such as trench and keyhole gardens for the elderly and sick, including PLHIV
- “Baby-friendly farms” for breastfeeding women
- Silos and other food-storage buildings
- Junior Farmer Field Schools for orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS
- Local production and marketing of vitamin- and mineral-rich foods like sweet potatoes and beans
- Education in nutrition, diet diversity, sanitation, and food-handling practices
- Identification of social, physical, or cultural barriers that prevent people from using healthy behaviors, such as washing hands before preparing food, or breastfeeding exclusively during an infant’s first six months
In addition, CRS has put increased resources to integrating water and sanitation interventions with agricultural programs to improve the health of vulnerable populations.